The intensity displayed in the Saturday afternoon grudge match between the Miami Hurricanes and North Carolina State Wolfpack gave no indication of two teams struggling in conference play. Miami (2-8 in the ACC, 11-12 overall) kept the home crowd on their feet with scrappy defensive play and the scoring of shooting guard Rion Brown and freshman point guard Manu Lecomte, who is statistically outperforming former Hurricane and current NBA rookie Shane Larkin‘s freshman campaign.
A missed free throw by Raphael Akpejiori with 3.5 seconds left will likely be the most talked about culprit in another close conference loss for the Hurricanes. The Wolfpack secured the rebound and held on for a 56-55 win. N.C. State’s T.J. Warren, the leading scorer in the ACC, led all scorers with 27 points.
It has been a tale of two seasons for Miami. Jim Larranaga coached the senior-laden 2012-13 squad to regular season and ACC tournament titles, including 13-straight conference victories and a blowout win over the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils at home in January. The Hurricanes eventually fell to the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament. Flash forward one year and not a single starter from that team remains in Coral Gables. Of the current starters, only Brown and starting center Tonye Jekiri played in the 2012-13 season. Lecomte is a true freshman and senior shooting guard Garrius Adams did not play in 2012-13 due to injury. Starting forward Donnavan Kirk transferred to Miami before the season. Needless to say, this Miami team has been trying to find continuity since day one.
Miami falls to 14th place in the conference and their NCAA hopes now rest on an improbable ACC Tournament victory. N.C. State (5-5 in the ACC, 15-8 overall) is in the midst of a logjam in the middle of the ACC standings with the North Carolina Tar Heels, Maryland Terrapins and Florida State Seminoles. If the Wolfpack is to threaten the Syracuse Orangemen or Virginia Cavaliers at the conference tournament, they will need to bring the same intensity shown against Miami on Saturday.