Seniors lead way for Hurricanes in regular-season finale

Lead by their cadre of seniors, the Miami Hurricanes close out their regular season on a high note with a big home victory against Wake Forest in their final test before the conference tournament.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- University of Miami men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga faced a dilemma heading into Saturday afternoon's regular-season finale.

With six seniors on the team, one would be left out of the starting lineup. Luckily for him, two guys -- Donnavan Kirk and Raphael Akpejiori -- volunteered to come off the bench and allow former walk-on Justin Heller to make his first start on senior night.

Those unselfish ways plus a career-high 22 points from fifth-year senior Garrius Adams led the Hurricanes to a 69-56 victory over Wake Forest at BankUnited Center.

Two other seniors -- Brown and Swoope -- added 19 and 10 points, respectively. Just 18 of the 69 points came from underclassmen.

"I think our seniors in their first three years here, including Donnavan, none of them averaged double-figure minutes, not double-figure points," Larranaga said. "Rion ended up being a major contributor his junior year, but as a whole we lacked a lot of playing experience.

"But this year they were the ones that carried the load. ... It was the senior class, especially someone like Erik Swoope stepping up late in the year. Really giving us something we didn't have."

Adams closed out the regular season with double figures in 10 of 12 games after struggling through a stretch of seven straight single-digit point performances from late December-January.

Once a top-20 recruit, Adams missed last season's Sweet 16 run with a knee injury. He played 33 minutes on Saturday and has averaged a career-high 33.4 minutes this year.

Sometimes, the sociology graduate wonders what could've been. Fitting that his best game took place on his final go on the home court.

"I always think about those, but at the same time after talking to family and friends and people who have been in my life since I've been playing basketball they just tell me to look at the positive things," Adams said. "Even though I got injured, I was able to come back from that and some people are not. I'm just blessed to be able to do that."

Brown, who connected on a pair of 3-pointers, moved up to No. 7 on Miami's all-time list (171). He has played in 134 career games, the most in UM history.

After serving as the seventh man in the rotation last season, averaging 22.2 minutes and just 6.4 points, he became the leader of a young and inexperienced team.

"I thought it would be a lot more emotional, but I pretty much approached it like it was another home game," said Brown, who now averages 35.1 minutes and 15.2 points per game. "I think that helped, it wasn't added pressure to ourselves. We just went out and played basketball. We wanted to get a win with confidence going into the ACC tournament.

"It is my last one, but it doesn't feel like it. I'm used to coming back the next year, coming back the next year. This really is the last one."

Down 14-9 with 10:55 left in the first half, Miami scored the next 11 points over six minutes to take a 23-14 lead. That run began with back-to-back 3-pointers by freshmen Manu Lecomte and Davon Reed.

By halftime, the Hurricanes held a 29-23 advantage despite shooting just 39 percent from the field. They outrebounded the Demon Deacons 24-12, with nine on the offensive boards.

Over the final 20 minutes, the Hurricanes shot 68 percent and jumped out to a 20-point lead with 3:22 to go.

Miami (16-15, 7-11 ACC) recorded 15 assists and brought down 17 more rebounds than Wake Forest (16-15, 6-12 ACC). Sophomore Tonye Jekiri scored six points and nabbed nine rebounds off the bench in 28 minutes.

With 3:05 left in the game, fans began to chant, "We want Justin." Larranaga appeased them by calling a timeout with 59.3 seconds remaining and inserting Heller back into the game.

In their past three victories, Miami has won by an average of 18 points. After dropping their first six conference home games, the Hurricanes closed out with three straight wins. They will play Virginia Tech this Wednesday in the ACC tournament.

"I was just happy we got to play well and together and we got the win," Adams said. "That was the most important thing. To go through the ups and downs of the way the games have gone on our home schedule to be able to win is great."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.