After surviving yet another close call, Miami finds itself on the verge of its longest winning streak in school history.
Looking to continue the quest for their first ACC title, the No. 2 Hurricanes go for a 15th consecutive victory Saturday at Wake Forest.
While an ongoing investigation regarding a "lack of institutional control" continues to surround the athletic department, Miami's remarkable run has overshadowed some of that negative attention. The Hurricanes (22-3, 13-0) have gone unbeaten since the start of January, posting the league's best start since Duke went 16-0 in 1998-99.
Miami, though, has had its hands full against its last three opponents. The Hurricanes, who won 74-68 at Florida State on Feb. 13 before pulling out a 45-43 victory at Clemson on Sunday, beat Virginia 54-50 in another tough battle Tuesday.
"Our last three games have been good indication of how good the ACC really is," said coach Jim Larranaga, whose team holds a three-game lead over the second-place Blue Devils.
"It's always important to build, and it's easier to build on victories than it is on losses. ... This last week has been a great experience."
Reggie Johnson made a tie-breaking layup with 5.7 seconds remaining Tuesday and Durand Scott added two free throws after stealing an inbounds pass to help seal the win. Star guard Shane Larkin led the way with 11 points and Rion Brown scored 10 off the bench.
"Nothing happening now is a coincidence," said Johnson, a Winston-Salem native. "We really worked for this. I think we're just getting what we deserve."
While they've struggled to get things going offensively of late, the Hurricanes' stingy defense has been there all season. In addition to holding teams to 58.4 points per game, Miami's 37.9 opponent field-goal percentage ranks as one of the country's best marks.
"They're doing a great job," Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. "They've earned their victories, and they're a hard team to play against. You've got to be very sound to beat them."
The Hurricanes now turn their attention to the Demon Deacons (11-14, 4-9), whom they've taken five of six from. Miami dropped its first six matchups at Wake Forest before escaping with a 74-73 victory during its last visit Feb. 9, 2011. Johnson scored 25 points in that game, two shy of his career high.
Scott had 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in last season's only meeting, a 74-56 home win.
"Wake Forest is a team that plays in the open court very, very well. They're a very good transition team," Larranaga said. "They shoot the ball much better on their home court than they do on the road. They play better defense at home, as well.
"They're a young team that has gained valuable experience all though the months of November, December and January, and now I think they're playing their best basketball. They've been in a lot of close games."
After falling 66-63 at Boston College on Feb. 13, the Demon Deacons suffered their sixth loss in seven games last Saturday, 57-56 to Georgia Tech. Travis McKie and C.J. Harris scored 15 points apiece, but Wake Forest was limited to 29.2 percent shooting.
"Obviously, it was a very tough week," said coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team dropped to 9-4 at home. "Two close losses will test one's resolve, but we have great, great character young men in that locker room. No pity parties. ... They will bounce back up and I'm confident in that."
The Demon Deacons, who also suffered a narrow 75-70 loss to then-No. 5 Duke on Jan. 30, have dropped 11 of 12 against Top-25 foes. That lone win, however, came 86-84 over then-No. 18 North Carolina State on Jan. 22.
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