CLEMSON — No. 3 Miami kept its perfect Atlantic Coast Conference season intact, no matter how bad things may have gone against Clemson.
Kenny Kadji had 12 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in the Hurricanes’ 45-43 victory Sunday night.
Their poor shooting, bad turnovers and ugly execution that showed themselves at times against the Tigers?
“All that is irrelevant,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We won the game. Time to move on.”
And they’ll do it at 12-0 in the ACC, the hottest league start since Duke went 16-0 on the way to the conference title in 1998-99. Miami (21-3) will likely supplant Duke – which lost at Maryland on Saturday night – as the country’s second-ranked team when the new poll is released Monday.
With six games remaining, the Hurricanes hold a three-game edge over second-place Duke in the ACC as they chase their first league basketball championship.
“All we’re thinking about is being 13-0,” said Durand Scott, held to 3 points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Miami’s single-minded focus on the moment paid off at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Hurricanes were down 42-38 on Jordan Roper’s steal and coast-to-coast layup with 2:00 to go. Clemson got the ball back moments later when Shane Larkin’s 3-point try rattled in and out and the large crowd could smell the upset.
Instead, Miami dug in down the stretch to escape with its 13th straight victory.
K.J. McDaniels missed a 1-and-1 try for Clemson and Miami’s Rion Brown drove lane for a basket and got fouled, his three-point play drawing Miami within a point.
McDaniel made one of two foul shots before Kadji hit an open 3 to put Miami in front for good. Rod Hall tried to answer back for the Tigers (13-12, 5-8), but Miami’s Trey McKinney Jones drew the offensive foul with 13 seconds left.
After McKinney Jones made a free throw, Hall again drove to back, but his layup try didn’t go. McDaniels missed a tip in attempt as time ran out. Miami’s players hugged each other in relief when it was over.
Larranaga said it would’ve been easy for his team to lose composure when the shots wouldn’t fall. “But we were able to stick together and that makes a huge difference,” he said.
The Tigers endured their second straight home heartbreaker. They were beaten 58-57 by North Carolina State on Scott Wood’s 3-pointer at the end on Feb. 10.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said his team continues to miss makeable shots. “I thought we got the ball in great places on a lot of possessions, but you need to score to win,” he said.
It was far from the prettiest game the Hurricanes have played in the breakout season. They scored their fewest points this year, shot under 26 percent in the first half and saw their high-scoring guard duo of Scott and Larkin go just 3 of 16 from the field.
None of that made a difference for Kadji, who easily made the decisive shot.
“We’re going to fight until the clock is finished,” Kadji said. “That’s something coach always tells us. You want to play hard and try to win.”
Freshman Jordan Roper had a career-high 19 points for the Tigers. Devin Booker added 10 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth game this season with double-figure points and rebounds.
Scott shot 1 of 8 and scored three points – he came in averaging 14 per game – but grabbed 11 rebounds, one shy of his career high.
“You’ve got to find other ways to help the team,” Scott said.
Miami came in as the first ACC team to go 11-0 since North Carolina in 2000-01. The Tar Heels, who were No. 1 and had won 18 in a row at the time, saw the streak end at Littlejohn Coliseum in a stunning upset – the Tigers lost the previous game by 34 to North Carolina State and their next one by 32 to Wake Forest.
The Hurricanes looked as though they wanted to take this one over early, taking an 8-2 lead on Jones’ 3-pointer with 11:37 to go. The Tigers, though, shook off a slow start – they opened 1 of 17 from the floor and missed 15 straight shots – with a 13-4 run to move in front 15-12 after Booker’s strong, one-handed jam.
Miami found its stride late in the half to pull ahead 18-16 on Brown’s jumper.
Neither team was all that crisp shooting in the opening half. Miami hit just 25.9 percent (7 of 27) while Clemson finished at 23.3 percent (7 of 30). The teams really struggled from way outside, combining to go 2 of 21 from 3-point range.
MIAMI (21-3) – Gamble 4-8 0-0 8, Kadji 5-11 1-1 12, Larkin 2-8 2-2 7, Scott 1-8 1-1 3, McKinney Jones 2-5 1-2 6, Brown 2-6 1-1 5, Swoope 1-2 0-0 2, Jekiri 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 18-52 6-7 45.
CLEMSON (13-12) – Jennings 2-12 1-2 5, McDaniels 1-11 1-3 3, Booker 4-13 3-8 11, Hall 1-5 0-0 2, Roper 8-11 0-0 19, Filer 1-2 0-0 3, Harrison 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Nnoko 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-56 5-13 43.
Halftime–Miami 18-16. 3-Point Goals–Miami 3-19 (McKinney Jones 1-3, Larkin 1-5, Kadji 1-6, Brown 0-2, Scott 0-3), Clemson 4-17 (Roper 3-4, Filer 1-2, Booker 0-1, Harrison 0-1, McDaniels 0-2, Jennings 0-7). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Miami 43 (Scott 11), Clemson 37 (Booker 10). Assists–Miami 7 (Larkin 3), Clemson 8 (Jennings 4). Total Fouls–Miami 15, Clemson 12. A–8,998.