Miami is looking to follow its first regular-season ACC championship with a similarly strong showing in the conference tournament.
Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan may have an even tougher time matching his latest performance.
The ninth-ranked Hurricanes begin their push for their first ACC tournament title in the quarterfinals against the Eagles, whose star freshman stole the show on the event’s first day.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said winning both the regular-season and tournament titles has been a goal all season.
“So now we have a very clear target and for us, we hope it will be a three-day event – Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” Larranaga said after Wednesday’s practice. “But we know to win it, we’re going to have to play very well and beat some very good teams.”
The Hurricanes (24-6) were picked to finish fifth in the preseason, but they won their first 13 league games and reached No. 2 nationally. They stumbled late but still finished a game ahead of Duke at 15-3 for the outright title and the tournament’s top seed.
In Greensboro, N.C., they’re trying to become only the third team from outside the state of North Carolina to win the tournament in 20 years, joining Maryland in 2004 and Florida State last year. Miami has reached the semifinals only once before, as a No. 12 seed after a pair of upsets before falling in a close game to top-seeded Duke here in 2010.
“There has been a lot of adversity, going from last in the ACC to a team with a lot of expectations and not really living up to them, and then this season people not thinking we were as good as we turned out to be,” senior Julian Gamble said.
“We still have work to do. We’re perfectionists. We want to play our absolute best basketball and we don’t want to make mental mistakes, especially going into these tournaments.”
That hasn’t happened lately, with the Hurricanes losing three of their final five regular-season games. The rough stretch began with an 80-65 defeat to Wake Forest, and while a three-point loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium wasn’t a reason to panic, most troubling may have been a 71-69 home loss to Georgia Tech.
Miami recovered in time to clinch the outright conference crown with a 62-49 victory over Clemson in the finale as Kenny Kadji had 23 points and 12 rebounds for his third straight double-double. Kadji has elevated his game late in the season, averaging 19.5 points on 53.2 percent shooting in his last four contests.
Hanlan may have even more confidence ahead of Friday’s contest. The Canadian guard set an ACC tournament record for freshmen with 41 points – the most by any player in the event since North Carolina’s Charles Scott in 1970 – as eighth-seeded Boston College defeated Georgia Tech 84-64 in the first round.
The ACC freshman of the year, who averaged 17.1 points on 51.9 percent shooting over his last seven regular-season games, hit 14 of 18 from the field and 8 of 10 from 3-point range Thursday as the Eagles (16-16) rallied from a 15-0 deficit to win comfortably.
“He was putting on a show,” said teammate Joe Rahon, who added 15 points and seven assists. “As a player on the court you try not to get caught up in it. … There was no doubt I was trying to get him the ball and he was doing a great job of moving without the ball and he put ’em in.”
Hanlan averaged 16.5 points on 58.3 percent shooting in two meetings with the Hurricanes despite missing all seven attempts from beyond the arc. The Eagles lost 60-59 at home Jan. 16, and their 72-50 defeat at Miami on Feb. 5 extended their losing streak in the series to six.