Supporting cast lifts Miami over UNC
As the final buzzer sounded clinching Miami’s first ACC basketball championship Sunday, Julian Gamble picked up teammate Durand Scott and carried him in celebration.
In reality, it was Gamble and teammates Trey McKinney Jones and Rion Brown who helped carry the No. 9 Hurricanes to the 87-77 win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Scott, Miami’s senior guard, scored a career-high 32 points in Saturday’s 81-71 semifinal win over N.C. State. But he injured his back in the opening minutes against UNC and had to be helped from the court.
He returned to tough out 33 minutes but scored only six points on 3 of 9 shooting.
The Hurricanes, though, received reinforcements.
Gamble, a 6-10 senior center from Durham’s Southern High School, scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — nearly twice his season averages in both categories.
“All of our guys are dangerous guys,” said Gamble, a sixth-year senior who missed most of one season and all of another with injuries. “One of our assistant coaches shared a stat with me. We have seven guys on our team who had a game where they’ve scored over 16 points. I don’t know that any other team in the country can say that. That just goes to show you that you have to pick your poison. Any guy can go off on any given night and it’s big time players making big time plays.”
McKinney Jones, also a senior guard averaging 9.4 points this season, poured in 20 points while making 6 of 9 3-pointers. He played 35 minutes and didn’t turn the ball over.
A 6-6 junior, Brown came off the bench to score 12 points, including making 2 of 3 on 3-pointers despite the fact that he’s a 26.6 percent 3-point shooter this season. He also did not commit a turnover.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams acknowledged that ACC Tournament MVP Shane Larkin (28 points) and Scott are Miami’s backcourt leaders. But he said McKinney Jones and Brown made the difference in the championship game.
“Trey McKinney Jones and Rion Brown with 32 points between them,” Williams said. “You talk about Miami, you talk about Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, as you should. But those guys really stepped up for them today.”
McKinney Jones made three 3-pointers in the first half. The first two pulled the Hurricanes even with UNC. The third put Miami ahead during a scintillating stretch where the teams combined to score on nine consecutive possessions.
UNC, which led by as many as five points in the second half, still led 67-64 with 7:42 left when Gamble and McKinney-Jones combined to wipe out the Tar Heels lead for good.
Gamble scored inside to start an 8-0 run and a McKinney-Jones 3-pointer put the Hurricanes ahead for good at 69-67 with 6:24 to play.
After Gamble hit one of two free throws, Brown held his defensive position to draw a charging foul on North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo for a UNC turnover. At the other end, Larkin drove the lane and zipped a pass to Gamble for a slam dunk that put the Hurricanes up 72-67.
McKinney Jones’ final 3-pointer with 1:33 left extended Miami’s lead to 79-71 and pretty much ended UNC’s title hopes. He’d come a long way from the beginning of his college career at the University of Missouri-Kansas City prior to his transfer to Miami.
“Cold blooded,” Gamble said of his roommate. “He’s a cold-blooded dude. To come from where he has, from UMKC, a mid-major, nobody really thinking he was that good. To step up on this stage and become a starter and make the impact that he has been incredible. He’s a big-time player.”
Gamble, too, has come a long way in his career. The state’s ACC schools hardly recruited him at Southern High School before he drew Miami’s attention when he excelled during a summer AAU game.
He stuck it out at Miami through early struggles, injuries and a coaching change, completing his undergraduate degree and setting the stage for him to receive a graduate degree this spring.
The NCAA granted him a sixth season of eligibility, which allowed him to become an ACC champion in front of his mother, Sarah Gamble, and wheelchair-bound nephew, 9-year-old Cameron Powell, on Sunday.
“It’s just an incredible experience,” Julian Gamble said. “It’s something that I definitely didn’t take for granted, the opportunity to even be in this position, let alone to be able to capitalize and win the ACC Tournament. It just feels great to do it in front of my mom, my nephew and a lot of my family and friends.”
Just being back in North Carolina just definitely puts me at ease so it is really good.”