CORAL GABLES, Fla. — When the final buzzer sounded Wednesday night at the BankUnited Center, the students and cheerleaders told the score.
They did so by storming the court and celebrating wildly as the national television cameras caught it all.
It might be November, but beating 13th-ranked Michigan State 67-59 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was a big deal.
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“It was probably 150 degrees in there — it was really hot with people, but it was a great experience,” said Miami guard Durand Scott, who was lifted up and briefly carried by a few fans. “That’s something a lot of people don’t get to experience, so we’re pretty grateful for that.”
They should be. The 5,791 fans in the 7,200-seat arena sounded like a packed AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. It’s not every day — or every season — the Hurricanes hoopsters chalk up such a significant non-conference home victory.
The Hurricanes (4-1) used a 14-2 run to start the second half, stifling defense and clutch free-throw shooting in the final minutes to give coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans (5-2) a disappointing return trip to Lansing, Mich.
“Kudos to our fans, man, I think they really helped us come out on top,” said Miami center Reggie Johnson, who sank 4 of 4 free throws in the final 2:11. “They were rockin’. That’s what we feel when go on the road to play at Duke and (North) Carolina.”
Miami coach Jim Larranaga also complimented the students — many wearing orange T-shirts and one wearing nothing but a Speedo so to distract MSU at the foul line — and the school’s pep band for creating an energizing atmosphere.
“This is what being a college student is all about — to get involved,” Larranaga said. “Your greatest memories don’t come in the classroom, it comes at events like this that you’ll remember years down the road.
“You’re going to forget your chemistry test and your English paper, but you’re not going to forget a night like this when you run on he court and you’re on television.”
Larranaga also praised his players for producing defense that, for the first time in his brief tenure, displayed “the right level of execution.”
Translation: To beat the Michigan States of the college basketball world, a team has to play like them.
“We told our players that we need to play at that level of intensity – that’s our goal,” Larranaga said. “It shouldn’t be about the opponent. It should be about your pride in yourself and our program to produce that kind of effort each and every day in practice and in each and every game.
“And if you do that, you’re going to be successful because you’re going to like the results.”
That wasn’t the case 15 days earlier, when the Hurricanes lost at Florida Gulf Coast University. Of course, not many teams would play such a non-conference in-state foe on the road. (“I didn’t schedule it, either,” Miami’s second-year coach said.)
Losing a game like the one to FGCU is not be good for any team that might need one of 37 at-large bids to play in the NCAA Tournament. But it’s only November, and the NCAA committee takes into account a team’s full body of work, which is why beating the No. 13 team in the country is significant.
About 20 minutes after the game, Larranaga said he already had about 50 texts offering congratulations. He then was interrupted during his press conference by a phone call from Miami football coach Al Golden.
The Hurricanes coaches and players, however, understand the season is still young.
“The win feels great, but like Coach said, we have to enjoy the night and then tomorrow get focused on UMass coming up,” Johnson said. “It’s not the highlight of our season, to come in and beat Michigan State.
“It was a heck of a game, both teams played hard, but were have to continue to get better.”
Get better in front of more raucous home crowds? We’ll see.