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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Virginia Cavaliers picked a bad time for an uncharacteristic defensive breakdown.
Stingy most of the night, the Cavaliers left Reggie Johnson open underneath, and he made a tie-breaking layup with 5.7 seconds left Tuesday night to help the No. 2-ranked Miami Hurricanes beat Virginia 54-50.
"Frustrating would be an understatement," Cavaliers guard Joe Harris said. "We had a great defensive effort the whole game. It's unfortunate — maybe a mental miscue here or there happens at the end of the game."
Durand Scott added two clinching free throws with four seconds to go for the Hurricanes, who earned their 14th consecutive victory and remained unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The win came two nights after they rallied late to beat Clemson 45-43.
Virginia (18-8, 8-5) fell to 0-6 in Miami. The Cavaliers led only once, at 29-28, but Evan Nolte tied the game at 50 by sinking a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.
After a timeout, guard Shane Larkin spotted Johnson open under the basket, and the senior center made a reverse layup. Paul Jesperson's inbounds pass was intercepted by Scott, who was fouled and hit both free throws.
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said Johnson's basket was too easy.
"We left the rim unprotected," Bennett said. "For playing such a sound game defensively, it does sting to give them one at the rim. You want them to at least earn it. Make them hit a contested shot, and obviously that was an uncontested shot."
The Hurricanes (22-3, 13-0 ACC) improved to 12-0 at home. They hold a 3½-game edge over second-place Duke in the ACC as they chase their first league basketball championship.
"Nothing happening now is a coincidence," Johnson said. "We really worked for this. I think we're just getting what we deserve."
Defense kept the Hurricanes in front on a night when went 1 for 7 from 3-point range and struggled against a Virginia defense ranked fourth in the nation. The Hurricanes smothered Virginia with their aggressive man-to-man.
"They did a good job of trying to make everything difficult," Harris said. "It seemed like they tried to overplay everything."
Harris, one of the nation's top outside shooters, had 16 points but only one 3-pointer. He extended his streak of treys to 16 consecutive games by sinking one in the final minute.
The Cavaliers trailed by seven points early and took their only lead seven minutes into the second half. They drew some consolation in taking Miami down to the wire.
"We learned a lot about ourselves tonight," guard Jontel Evans said. "We can play against any team in the country. We're touching on something great, and we just have to finish."
Miami held the Cavaliers to 39-percent shooting and blocked seven shots. Julian Gamble had four blocks, including three on one possession.
The Hurricanes held a league opponent to 50 points or less for the sixth time. They're 4-0 in ACC play in games decided by four points or less.
Miami climbed on Monday to No. 2 in the rankings, best in the program's history. For two weeks the Hurricanes have been the only unbeaten team in league play among the major conferences.
Their ACC start is the best since Duke went 16-0 and won the conference in 1999.
"They're doing a great job," 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. We almost were — just a few possessions away."
Larkin had 11 points, including four in the final 42 seconds, to go with six assists and only one turnover. Rion Brown added 10 points off the bench in 25 minutes. Gamble had eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Hurricanes started fast on offense, working the ball inside and shooting 5 for 5 in the first 3:21. But points were tough to come by after that.
Instead it was Miami's defense that had a sellout crowd roaring, especially when Gamble blocked three consecutive shots by Akil Mitchell.