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March 16, 2013
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Durand Scott admitted he had a flashback to 2010 on Saturday.
Three years ago he came into the Greensboro Coliseum as a freshman and helped the 12th-seeded Miami Hurricanes win two games before being eliminated in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
Now he has a chance to lead his team to the tournament championship. His career-high 32 points propelled Miami to an 81-71 win over NC State in the semifinals. North Carolina secured the other berth in the final with a 79-76 victory over Maryland. The Hurricanes and Tar Heels play for the ACC title Sunday at 1 p.m.
Scott smiled when asked if he remembered three years ago.
“There’s a security guard right down there, looking at me right now, telling me he remembered me the moment when I came in as a freshman,” Scott said. “But that (time) is in the past and it won’t help us any tomorrow.”
Scott put on a dazzling show Saturday, starting the game with two of his trademark drives to the basket that he perfected on the playgrounds of New York City. When the Wolfpack tried to deny his route to the hoop, he squared up outside and swished 3-pointers. On the day he hit 5 of 8 shots from behind the arc and 7 of 10 inside.
“When Durand gets off to a start like he did today, I just try to give him the ball and move out of the way,” said his backcourt mate, Shane Larkin. “He’s a dynamic player and if he gets going early it’s going to be a bad night for the other team.”
Hurricanes center Julian Gamble said it all starts with Scott’s drives as he pumps the ball like a piston, searching for an opening before making his move, finding an angle and putting just the right spin on the ball.
“The thing about Durand is he doesn’t do a lot of fancy dribbling,” Gamble said. “He’s just going to drive by you, he’s going to find a way to do it. You may be quicker than him, you may be stronger than him but his will is going to find a way to get a sliver of light to get to that basket.”
And when he adds the 3-pointers?
“Unguardable,” Gamble said. “His shooting is something he’s drastically improved over the last two years and on a night when he’s doing both? You can’t stop him.”
Larkin said Scott’s teammates try to imitate his layups, usually unsuccessfully.
“The way he puts spin on the ball when it’s on the glass is crazy,” Larkin said. “It was a great show today and I’m glad I was there to witness it.”
There are many ways Scott is valuable to the Hurricanes. Saturday it was scoring but he was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and that’s his most consistent aspect.
“I know one thing I definitely can do night in and night out is play defense,” Scott said. “With that target on my back I never could slack up on defense.”
Then there are other things he does in a game, such as the four assists, three rebounds and two steals against the Wolfpack. He made perhaps the biggest play of the second half after State had sliced the lead to 50-44 and seemed to have seized the momentum.
Larkin missed a jumper and Scott grabbed the offensive rebound to keep the possession alive. He kicked it back out to Larkin, who returned the ball to Scott for a dagger of a 3-pointer.
“I knew we needed the ball and I just went to go get it,” Scott said. “I saw (State’s) Scott Wood had position to get the ball but I thought I had a better position, which I did. I went up there and just grabbed it. I knew it was a big play for us and we finished it with a 3-point play, so it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Then there’s Scott’s leadership. There are a lot of veteran players on the Hurricanes’ roster, but he’s the unquestioned leader.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” said forward Kenny Kadji. “He’s our leader. He always gives 110 percent, he’s always talking. I don’t know if you saw it (Friday) against Boston College, but he kind of started yelling at us during the game and that’s when we went on the run. Everybody here listens to him.”
Scott said it isn’t easy to yell at his teammates because each one responds differently.
“The best way to be a leader is you have to know everybody on your team, know their tendencies and how they act as a person away from basketball,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done well at; I know how to talk to my teammates and get them riled up and ready for a ball game.”
Having put themselves on the cusp of a championship – a position almost no one expected them to be in before the season – the Hurricanes aren’t about to take anything for granted. They handled North Carolina twice, 68-59 on the road and 87-61 at home, but that will be irrelevant Sunday.
And waiting for Scott will be an old adversary, the Tar Heels’ Dexter Strickland. While Miami has never been in an ACC championship game, Strickland has his own motivation. He was injured and missed last year’s title game in Atlanta, when UNC lost to Florida State.
Strickland scored 15 points against Maryland, playing his usual solid all-around game. Eleven points came in the first half, which he attributed to being extra aggressive because something in his personal life (he wouldn’t disclose what) made him mad.
As for guarding Scott, which he will likely do much of the game, Strickland said he’ll be ready.
“I’ve been playing against Durand ever since I was 14 years old in AAU ball,” he said, “so it’s not a new thing for me. He’s hot; he had 32 today so he had a lot of confidence. I look forward to meeting him.”
And how will he try to defend Scott’s forays into the paint?
“Stop him from getting the ball,” Strickland replied. “Being in denial (defense), being in the right place at the right time, team defense, everything plays into stopping him.”
Miami has a lot of players who will need to play well in order to emerge with the trophy. The Hurricanes won’t necessarily rise or fall with how well Scott plays. But, one way or another, he’ll have a big influence on the game.
“The guy just wills us to victory,” Gamble said. “He does it time and time again.”
And now Scott wants to finish what he started as a freshman in the same building.
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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