Miami fifth-year senior center Reggie Johnson ruined what was almost a story-book ending for NC State.
Johnson tipped in Shane Larkin's miss with 0.8 seconds left in the game and then watched NC State freshman guard Rodney Purvis' desperation heave from beyond halfcourt rim out to preserve the No. 14-ranked Hurricanes' 79-78 win Saturday at PNC Arena.
The inside trio of Johnson, Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji — all at a listed 6-10 or taller and averaged 261 pounds — combined for 44 points and 17 rebounds in the win.
Johnson had his most productive game back in four contests since missing time with a thumb injury. The Winston-Salem, N.C., native had 13 of his 15 points in the second half to go along with eight rebounds to help the Hurricanes remain a perfect 8-0 in the ACC and 17-3 overall.
"This is the best league in the country," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "To play college basketball is so much fun. Playing in the ACC is the ultimate. If I can keep doing this, I'm a happy man.
"Both teams played a great game, and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. If Purvis' shot at the end went in, then he's charmed. Both teams are hard working and very good basketball teams."
NC State previously lost in a similar ending when Maryland sophomore center Alex Len got an offensive rebound and finished strong to give the Terrapins a 51-50 home win Jan. 16. Having two games decided in such fashion might never happen in the same season for quite some time.
"It's a heart-breaker and I think the first thought for me was how proud I am of our effort," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "We played extremely hard. We never quit.
"It just comes down to a play. Reggie makes a great tip and give him credit for it. He stayed with the play."
The loss spoiled the terrific effort from freshman point guard Tyler Lewis, who was playing in memory of his grandmother on his father's side, Margie Lewis, who passed away Friday in Statesville, N.C., at age 83. Margie Lewis, who is survived by her husband of 61 years, told Lewis to win the game for her Friday in their last telephone conversation.
"It's been hard on my family and the only person who came down [to watch] was my uncle and my sister," Lewis said. "My parents didn't get to see the game today, unless they watched it on TV [which they did]. It's a difficult time for my family. I'm going to go back home and spend time with them for a little bit."
Lewis filled in admirably for injured junior point guard Lorenzo Brown, who injured his ankle in a 58-55 loss at Virginia on Tuesday. Lewis came off the bench for 16 points and five assists in 36 minutes — all easily career highs — and played nearly every minute of the second half.
"Tyler stepped up and was just terrific," Gottfried said. "Maybe we learned today that Tyler can play more and we can rest Zo more. Maybe there is a positive in there for us. I couldn't be any more prouder of him."
Lewis and the Wolfpack led 78-77, and he tried to extend the lead with a mid-range jumper off the left wing, but it didn't fall with about 10.9 seconds left. Gottfried had confidence Lewis would extend the lead, but a needed screen didn't materialize.
"If I had made the shot, we probably win the game," Lewis said. "I thought I played pretty good in taking Lorenzo's spot. I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I thought I played a good all-around game."
Lewis will return home tonight, and has visitation Sunday and the funeral Monday. He finally had fun on the basketball court after a difficult first college season playing limited minutes, but he also aches for the loss of his grandmother.
"I had to prove to all the people that hadn't seen me this year because I haven't a lot of minutes, but after this, I think I proved a lot of people wrong," Lewis said. "It was a easy decision for me to play. I know basketball will take my minds off things and it's something that I love. I knew this would be a great opportunity for me and I couldn't let it slip away."
Purvis started at point guard but was able to play with Lewis for most of the game, and 13 points and a pair of three-pointers.
"He came in and led the team, played a lot of minutes and controlled the game," Purvis said. "I felt like he never got tired. It hurts that he played that well and we lost the game."
Lewis thrilled the sold-out crowd with his play, and so did an inspired C.J. Leslie, who was benched at the start of the game which Gottfried called his decision.
Miami might have had had the height and the beef, but Leslie countered with his explosiveness and touch in the lane for 18 points and 12 rebounds. Leslie said the team rallied around Lewis.
"We are always going to support Tyler because we are a family and we are part of his family," Leslie said. "Any time anything happens to one of us, we back each other part. He came out and played well. It's a confident builder."
Leslie was aided by senior center Richard Howell, who added 15 points and eight rebounds, and the Wolfpack held a 31-28 advantage on the boards. The inside duo combined for 21 first-half points to give NCSU a 40-34 halftime lead. However, the play of the first half belonged to Purvis, who threw down a huge follow-up dunk to make it 34-30 with 2:40 left in the first half.
"Coach told me to go offensive rebound a lot more, so things like that can happen," Purvis said.
Miami kept its poise throughout the second half in showcasing why the Hurricanes are undefeated in the ACC. The Canes feature a sixth-year senior in Gamble, three fifth-year seniors in Johnson, Kadji and wing Trey McKinney Jones and a senior guard in Durand Scott. The latter, Scott, proved difficult to keep out of the lane and off the free-throw lane down the stretch. Scott scored-team-high 18 points and went 6 of 9 at the line.
NC State put together an early 11-4 second half run to lead 51-42 with 15:21 left in the game, sparked by Purvis' three-pointer off an assist by Lewis.
Miami charged back to take a 68-62 lead with 7:07 left in the game, courtesy of a 16-2 run by the Canes. Gamble, a Durham, N.C., native, hit a big three-point play to cap the run.
"We were down 68-62 and we dug deep, and turned that thing around," Gottfried said.
NC State clawed back, thanks to a Purvis' three-pointer and then a dunk and two free throws from Leslie to take a 71-69 lead with 4:13 remaining. Senior wing Scott Wood then hit a big three-pointer to give the Wolfpack a 74-69 lead with 3:10 left, and the Hurricanes went to work down the stretch, led by Scott. The senior guard scored six points over the last 1:31 to set up Johnson's heroics.
NC State returns to action at Duke on Thursday. The No. 19-ranked Wolfpack find out Monday if their still in the top 25 polls after losing four out of the last six games by a combined seven points. Gottfried will likely address Brown's health both during Monday's ACC teleconference and during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
"I don't think he was very close [to playing], but he really wanted to," Gottfried said. "This afternoon, there was no shot. Right about game time, he was like, 'Coach, I think I can go.' He was trying to figure it out. Unless he's 100 percent, I didn't feel comfortable putting him out there."