Nolan Smith’s latest performance was the best of his career and kept Duke on track toward another ACC title.
Smith began making it difficult for conference opponents with 28 points in a win over Miami in January, and he’ll try to help the fifth-ranked Blue Devils continue their dominance of the Hurricanes in Sunday’s rematch at the BankUnited Center.
Duke (22-2, 9-1) trailed rival North Carolina by 14 points at halftime Wednesday night, but Smith scored 22 of his career-high 34 points after that in a 79-73 victory. Seth Curry added a season-high 22 off the bench during the program’s largest second-half comeback in 52 years.
“This comeback win, how tough we were, how together we were and how great it feels now, I don’t think anything can be better than this,” Smith said.
The senior point guard leads the ACC with 21.5 points and 5.5 assists per game in his bid to become the league’s first player to finish atop both categories. He’s helped himself in the scoring race by averaging 27.0 points in the last five games.
Given his recent history against Miami, Smith might maintain that average after Sunday’s game. He made a season-high four 3-pointers during the 74-63 victory over the Hurricanes on Jan. 2 and a career-high five while scoring 21 points in his previous game at BankUnited, an 81-74 win Feb. 17.
However, he was held to 12 points in an ACC tournament semifinal victory over the Hurricanes, while Kyle Singler scored 27. Singler, though, missed 10 of 15 shots in last month’s win and shot a season-worst 17.6 percent (3 of 17) in Wednesday’s victory.
The senior forward, though, did score 10 points against North Carolina to extend his streak of double-digit scoring performance to 22 games. Singler, who scored 22 in the previous trip to Miami, is 25 shy of becoming the 20th player with 1,000 career points during ACC regular-season play.
He’ll try to accomplish that feat against a Hurricanes team trying to play itself into NCAA tournament contention. Miami (15-9, 4-6) has had its last eight games decided by a total of 17 points and won its last three by a combined five.
Reggie Johnson made two free throws with four seconds left and scored a career-high 25 points in Wednesday night’s 74-73 win at Wake Forest, helping the Hurricanes snap a 13-game road losing streak in conference play.
“We knew we were going to win,” coach Frank Haith said. “This team was going to win. You don’t do all the things the right way, like this team has, without something good happening. I just believe we’re doing things the right way and these kids are working hard. We just have to stay true to what we’re doing.”
Johnson scored 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the loss at Duke, but Haith’s will need more from leading scorer Malcolm Grant (15.2 ppg). The junior guard has averaged 9.3 points on 28.6 percent shooting in his three games against the Blue Devils.
Duke has won 10 of 11 matchups since Miami joined the ACC before the 2004-05 season.