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March 12, 2010
By Bill Hass
But it paid off for Miami Friday in the ACC Tournament.
In the first half of their quarterfinal game against Virginia Tech, Hurricanes coach Frank Haith felt his freshman point guard, Durand Scott, was playing at less than his best. That was reflected in the stat sheet – two points on 1-for-5 shooting, two rebounds, no assists and two turnovers.
“Coach came to see me at halftime and said I’m not playing my heart out, I’m not getting back on defense, I’m not running,” Scott said, “and I took that personally. I wanted to get out there in the second half and give it my all.”
His ‘all’ looked like this: 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting and 5-for-5 free throws, four more rebounds and two assists, helping to push the 12th-seeded Hurricanes to a 70-65 quarterfinal upset of the fourth-seeded Hokies. It came on the heels of Thursday’s 83-62 win over No. 5 seed Wake Forest.
Scott did his best work Friday in the final three minutes. First came a tumbling layup and additional free throw that put the ‘Canes up 62-61. Next, a tough jumper to tie the game at 64. Then two more free throws to nudge Miami back in front 66-65. And finally two free throws with 17 seconds left to seal the outcome.
Haith said that, indeed, he challenged Scott at halftime.
“I expect more out of him,” the coach said. “We need Durand to play at the level he’s capable of playing at and I thought he wasn’t playing at that level.
“In the second half, late in the ball game, I said ‘are you going to take us home?’ It’s hard to put the ball in a freshman’s hands, but I think he’s that capable, I think he’s that kind of player who has the ability to make plays. And he sure did there late in the game.”
It was the kind of performance that young guards aren’t expected to deliver in the ACC Tournament. But it was something Scott envisioned ever since high school.
“Before I even came to college I had a focus,” he said. “I wanted to come in and put a stamp on everything, show everybody who I am. I’m all about hard work, I’m determined to get the job done. Nobody can tell me I can’t do it, I’m too young or whatever because I’ve got the heart.
“When it came down the stretch coach wanted the ball in my hands and believed in me, which I’m happy about, and I just made it happen for him.”
The Hurricanes became the second team in five years to win two games out of the last seed, following Wake Forest in 2006. Although they experienced a difficult regular season (4-12 in the league), suddenly they seem to have gained the chip and the edge that Haith believes they need to play with to be successful.
“Throughout the season we had some ups and downs, injuries and attitude and things like that,” Scott said. “Right now I think we’re one family; we’re not all over the place and that’s the reason we’re successful now.”
Scott certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. Asked about his ability to drive to the basket, he offered this: “I can get to the basket anytime I want to. There’s nobody in this league, I believe, who can stop me gong to the basket when I’m determined to do it.”
Miami didn’t advance to Saturday’s semifinal game against Duke by Scott’s play alone. Even with its best inside player, Dwayne Collins, out with a leg injury, they dominated the boards 46-29, with Reggie Johnson snagging 12 and guard James Dews grabbing nine more.
For Johnson, who is from nearby Winston-Salem, it’s particularly gratifying.
“Before we came here we regrouped and told each other ‘the season’s over with, let’s come here and start over and just have fun,’” he said. “And we’re having fun right now. I’m in North Carolina, so I love this.”
While few people expected Miami to get this far, perhaps even fewer believe they can beat Duke. But post player Julian Gamble said the team has bought into something Haith told them.
“The way coach put it was as long as we’ve got a game left on our schedule we have an opportunity to make an impact for the rest of our season,” Gamble said. “Obviously by being the 12th-place team, the only way you can make it (to the NCAA Tournament) is to win the championship. As long as we have a next game on our schedule we have an opportunity to win a championship.”
If the Hurricanes are going to pull that off, Scott will likely be the catalyst. His play against Virginia Tech left his teammates searching for words.
“Aw man, oh man,” Johnson said. “All right, now. He played great. For a freshman to come in and do that, wow. Durand Scott, I’m proud of the young man.”
Analogous to the playoffs
Jack Marin, one of the ACC Legends who will be honored during the semifinals Saturday, had an interesting take on the overall low shooting percentages during the tournament.
“In some ways it’s analogous to playoffs in the pros,” he said. “The defenses get a lot tougher, it’s late in the season and there’s some fatigue involved. I think if you just look at shooting percentages toward the end of the season they go down a little bit. It’s playoff basketball and it’s tougher, the pressure is greater and that’s probably most of it.”
Marin knows a lot about this tournament and the NBA playoffs. At Duke, he was a smooth left-hander who was first-team All-ACC in 1965 and 1966. The Blue Devils won the tournament title in his sophomore and senior seasons. He played 11 seasons in the NBA, making the playoffs seven times.
There was no 3-point line in his day, but Marin said he and teammate Bob Verga regularly took shots from that range, especially against zones. He believes today’s players are better shooters and the game is much more physical.
“They just get banged so much inside,” he said. “Something inside is not a gimme. They beat each other up pretty badly and there’s a lot of contact on the arms where the play is taken away from you.
“There was no weightlifting when I played. You look at these guys, they’re all ripped out; they’re, really big, physical guys.”
These days Marin practices law in Raleigh, lives in Durham, has season tickets to Duke games (he gives a lot of them away to people who have never seen a game there) and plays a lot of golf.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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