While there truly aren’t any “must-win” situations for 21-5 teams with five games to play in the regular season, the Miami Hurricanes were somewhat in desperation-mode after a lopsided 25-point loss at North Carolina over the weekend.

Yes, the ACC regular season title remains up for grabs—the Tar Heels, Cavaliers, (Louisville) Cardinals and Canes all in the hunt—but for Miami, something bigger was at stake; a signature victory right when this program might be questioning it’s validity.

“Among the captains we said we can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” point guard Davon Reed said post-game, after scoring 21 points and going 5-of-6 from beyond-the-arc. “That game hurt but it’s in the past”—a missed opportunity in Chapel Hill that was redeemed in Coral Gables on Monday night, in front of a packed house.

Reed’s two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining gave the Canes a three-point advantage and when a game-tying attempt from London Perrantes missed by a few feet—courtesy of some clamp-down defense from Angel Rodriguez—a 40-pound gorilla was removed from Miami’s back.

Monday night’s prime time showdown was a blow-for-blow type affair. The Canes pushed the lead to five on a Kamari Murphy dunk in the first half with 3:19 to play. Up 23-18, the Cavaliers immediately answered back on a Mike Tobey jumper.

The lead again was pushed to five on a Tonye Jekiri free throw with :27 before intermission, but Malcolm Brogdon cut the lead to two after hitting a three-pointer. Not to be outdone, some timely hustle by Sheldon McClellan had him cutting up court and launching one behind the line with a second remaining, pushing the lead back to five.

The dance continued in the second half. Jekiri turned it over and Brogdon made a lay-up. Rodriguez missed a lay-up, Murphy hauled in the rebound—a key component in a pre-game speech by head coach Jim Larranaga—and with as second look, Rodriguez drilled a 3-pointer.

Rodriguez got a quick steal and over a one-minute span, Reed knocked down two from beyond-the-arc and pushed the Canes lead to 10.

From there, a two-and-a-half minute drought that felt like a lifetime. Virginia went on a 8-0 run, courtesy of a Rodriguez miss, a Reed turnover and a Jekiri foul. The Cavaliers pulled to within two, when a Jekiri lay-up pushed the lead to, 41-37.

With 9:38 remaining, a Tobey lay-up put Virginia up by one—during that time, a handful of missed jumpers from Ja’Quan Newton, a missed three from Rodriguez and a turnover.

To the Canes’ credit, resiliency kicked in. Newton hit a jumper, McClellan drained another three and the Cavaliers went cold, missing free throws and jump shots. The Miami lead was back at five with 5:30 remaining, after McClellan went 1-of-2 from the line and back to eight after Reed hit a 3-pointer at the 3:20 mark.

From there, another shift in power as the Canes went cold and the Cavs stormed back. McClellan and Rodriguez missed from their marks, while Brogdan hit a 3-pointer and Perrantes hit a jump shot that cut the Miami lead to one with 1:25 remaining.

Rodriguez turned it over, Tobey missed a lay-up that would’ve put the Cavaliers ahead, but Jekiri pulled down the rebound, was fouled, made a free throw, missed the next and Miami’s two-point lead was safe only after Brogdon missed a three-point attempt with :25 remaining.

Newton missed a 1-and-1, Brogdan got the rebound, Perrantes followed with a lay-up and it was back to a one-point game with :06 remaining. Reed was back at the line, hit two, Rodriguez smothered Perrantes as he dribbled up court and a game-tying attempt wasn’t even close. Miami survived. Literally.

In the end, Reed was the Canes’ hero, with 21 points—5-of-6 from beyond-the-arc, 6-of-8 shooting and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. McClellan followed with 11 points, but had a 3-of-10 outing and was 3-of-6 with three-point shooting. Jekiri had nine points, while Rodriguez cooled off with a seven-point performance.

Dissecting the box score and might expose some warts and put a magnifying glass on the inconsistency that’s plagued Miami for much of the season—but again, when knocking off the third-ranked team in the land and responding from a colossal 25-point road beat-down courtesy of the conference leader, the nitpicking can be saved for a later date.

The Canes got a much-needed win and won its biggest game of the season at a crucial time. Some big-time games remain—Louisville at The BUC on Saturday and Notre Dame in South Bend next Wednesday—but topping Virginia serves as a reminder that Miami can go toe-to-toe with anybody. (Prior to tip-off, the Cavaliers were a top-seed in many brackets as March Madness looks.)

Revel in the win and regroup as another huge challenge awaits via a feisty Cardinals squad this weekend.

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