GREENSBORO, N.C. - All season long, Durand Scott played the part of second banana in the University of Miami’s backcourt to Shane Larkin.
But in Saturday’s ACC tournament semifinal game, Scott took on the leading role by scoring a career-high 32 points while leading the top-seeded Hurricanes to an 81-71 victory over No. 5 seed North Carolina State at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The victory sends UM (26-6) into Sunday’s championship game against North Carolina in a matchup pitting conference royalty and upstart newcomer. The Tar Heels (24-9) beat Maryland 79-76 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
North Carolina has won 17 ACC tournament championships, second only to Duke’s 19 titles. Miami is playing in the first conference title game in program history.
“It’s kind of surreal,” UM senior forward Kenny Kadji said. “How many people picked us to win this tournament? Like two, I think. And now we’re in the championship game with a chance to win it. It’s just unbelievable.”
For that, the ninth-ranked Hurricanes can thank Scott, a New York City native who knocked down 12 of 18 shots, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. The 12 field goals and five 3-pointers were career bests for Scott.
Well, not exactly. Larkin, the lightning-quick sophomore point guard and runner-up for ACC Player of the Year, contributed his own impressive stat line Saturday, recording 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in the win.
But Saturday really belonged to Scott. He opened by scoring 14 of the Hurricanes’ first 19 points, surpassing his season average of 12.8 points less than 12 minutes into the game.
Scott, a physical 6-foot-5, 203-pounder, is known for his aggressive drives to the basket and not so much for his outside shooting. Coming into Saturday’s game, Scott was shooting a pedestrian 32.5 percent (25-for-80) on 3-point attempts. That might be a surprise to the Wolfpack, who watched as Scott drained five of UM’s six 3-pointers, including one with 11:14 left in the game after N.C. State cut Miami’s advantage from 19 points to six.
Sparked by Scott’s 3-pointer, UM built its lead back to double digits and didn’t allow N.C. State (24-10) to creep any closer until the closing minutes.
“I think I missed my first two [3-point attempts], but after that I told myself, ‘When I’m open, shoot it,’ ” said Scott, picked last week as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. “That’s what Shane tells me all the time, and when I don’t shoot it, he gets upset at me. So there were two I shot and once they went in, I said, ‘I got to shoot it every time before he gets upset.’ ”
The Wolfpack got to within single digits in the final two minutes, but four consecutive free throws from Larkin ended any hopes of winning the program’s first tournament championship since 1987.
N.C. State entered Saturday’s game having won five of six games and had most of the crowd on its side, but a lack of production from the team’s top players — second-team All-ACC selection Lorenzo Brown was held without a field goal — and the combination of Scott and Larkin proved too formidable to overcome.
“We stayed poised,” Hurricanes senior center Julian Gamble said. “We knew we were going to win this game.”
UM has beaten North Carolina twice this season, and a third win will further the Hurricanes’ claim for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that begins next week. The tournament field will be announced Sunday night.
”We’re a very hungry team, and we want more and more,” Larkin said. ”We’re not satisfied with winning the regular season. We want the ACC championship, and then eventually we want to make the national championship game. We’re hungry, and we’re not going to settle for anything less.”
In North Carolina’s semifinal win over Maryland on Saturday, Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock scored 15 points apiece for the third-seeded Tar Heels. P.J. Hairston added 13 despite a heavily wrapped and injured left (non-shooting) hand.
Alex Len scored 20 points to lead seventh-seeded Maryland (22-12), which knocked off No. 2 Duke less than 24 hours earlier in the quarterfinals and nearly pulled off another upset.