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CANES HOOPS ROLLS ON: Miami Holds Off Virginia 54-50

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Winning ugly has been working for the Miami Hurricanes lately. So why change things?

For the third straight time since running North Carolina out of Coral Gables, the Hurricanes had a fight on their hands -- and held on.

Miami, ranked second in the nation behind Indiana, got a big bucket from center Reggie Johnson with 5.7 seconds left to beat Virginia 54-50 at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables Tuesday night.

"Our last three games have been a good indication as how good the ACC is,'' coach Jim Larranaga said. "The teams in our league have so much physical talent ... We knew we would have to execute very well in the final seconds.''

Virginia tied the score at 50 with 14.3 seconds remaining when Evan Nolte hit a 3-pointer.

Yet with time closing down, guard Shane Larkin -- who scored four points in the final minute -- worked the ball around and found Johnson all along under the basket. Johnson scored and Miami stole the ball on the inbound.

"We just basically ran the same play as we did against N.C. State,'' said Johnson, whose last second tip-in beat the Wolfpack on Feb. 2. "Every time we play Virginia it's a battle."

Miami's Durand Scott gave the Hurricanes -- now 22-3 and 13-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- their final cushion by dropping a pair of free throws with 4.1 left.

Earlier in the evening, Indiana beat No. 4 Michigan State -- which UM topped here on Nov. 28.

"Our focus is on us,'' Larkin said when asked about Indiana. "Every thing will settle itself. If we stick to what we do, we'll be happy.''

The Hurricanes have won 14 straight and hasn't lost since losing in a consolation game to Indiana State in Hawaii on Christmas night.

Early Tuesday game, the Canes looked more like the high-flying team that drubbed Duke and North Carolina by average of 26.5 points and less like the UM squad that had to fight to escape Tallahassee and almost lost at Clemson on Sunday night.

Miami was red-hot from the onset in front of another raucous, capacity crowd of 7,972 at the on-campus arena. The Hurricanes opened by scoring on consecutive shots in the first minute and hit their first five from the field.

Like the Seminoles and Tigers before them, the Cavaliers (18-8, 8-5) refused to go away.

Virginia trailed 16-9 but kept chipping away as Miami struggled to score for long stretches in the opening half.

The Cavaliers cut Miami's lead to 2 by halftime and took their first lead of the night with 13:06 remaining when Evan Nolte hit one of two from the stripe.

Miami quickly retook the lead when Rion Brown was fouled while jacking up a 3-pointer. The junior knocked down all three free throws to make it 31-29 with 12:45 left. Miami then made a big defensive stop and fed it inside to Johnson who was fouled while scoring.

The Hurricanes' big man missed the free throw but pulled down a defensive board on Virginia's next trip up the floor.

Moments later, Brown sank Miami's first 3-pointer of the night to give the Hurricanes a seven-point lead -- their biggest since early on.

Virginia, again, wasn't finished as it closed to within a point at 44-43 with 3:33 remaining.

The Canes shooting went cold but a runner from Brown with 3:05 left gave Miami a three-point lead it held heading into the game's final minute.

Virginia's Joe Harris scored to tie it at 46.

With 42.2 seconds left, Larkin's lay-up gave Miami the advantage at 48-46. With 32.8 seconds left, Harris was fouled while missing a layup and hit the front end of his free throws.

Larkin pulled down the rebound on the second and was fouled; with 28.4 seconds left, Larkin calmly hit both to give Miami a three-point lead.

The Hurricanes go for their 14th win in conference play Saturday at Wake Forest.

"It's always important to build and it's easier to build on victories than losses,'' Larranaga said of the close calls.

"You can learn a lot from losses because it shows your limitations and weaknesses. But it's much better -- the guys feel better, their self-esteem grows -- after a victory. This last week has been a really great experience.''

"These guys have been through an awful lot,'' Larranaga said. "They're hungry. They've earned this. None of these wins have been given to them.''

Miami plays two of the ACC's lower teams in the Demon Deacons (4-9 in the ACC) and then play host to last place Virginia Tech on Feb. 27. The Hurricanes then visit Duke for the much-anticipated rematch against the Blue Devils.

The Hurricanes won at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time last season.