Life on the NCAA bubble means sweaty games, sleepless nights for Jim Larranaga

Jim Larranaga directs his team against Florida State. (Getty Images)

Jim Larranaga directs his team against Florida State. (Getty Images)

Of course, North Carolina is Miami’s best win to date. Beating the ACC leader on Jan. 28 is the crown jewel of the Hurricanes’ in-progress NCAA tournament resume.

The most important win of the season? That might be Georgia Tech.

Miami remained in the postseason hunt with that 70-61 victory Wednesday night, but it’s not just the result that made it special.

Consider what had to happen for Miami to beat the Yellow Jackets, who entered with a 6-6 conference record that includes takedowns of No. 6 Florida State, No. 9 UNC and No. 14 Notre Dame.

Starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton served the first of a three-game suspension. Standout freshman guard Bruce Brown, the fill-in point, had tonsillitis, which led to a high fever and dehydration. Freshman forward Dewan Huell injured his foot at Louisville last Saturday and was in the trainer’s room constantly. Neither was likely to play.

“Tuesday night I’m at home and I’m trying to figure out what we’re going to do,” coach Jim Larranaga told WQAM on Thursday.

“I’m thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got D.J. Vasiljevic, who’s a 2-guard, at the 1, we’ve got Davon Reed at the 2, Anthony Lawrence at the 3, Kamari Murphy at the 4, Ebuka Izundu at the 5 – and Rodney Miller backing all five guys up.”

Miller, a freshman center, had played 48 minutes in 13 games.

Before the Newton suspension Miami had eight scholarship players, so Larranaga “had to get ready our walk-ons, Mike Robinson and Chris Stowell, who are absolutely the most terrific kids but they haven’t played a minute in ACC games. We don’t have enough guys to get ready for Georgia Tech.

“I told my wife, ‘This is crazy. What are we going to do?’”

His players answered that for him.

Brown showed up for the Wednesday morning shootaround, medicated and on intravenous fluids, hoping to play. He went 37 minutes, scoring eight points and dishing out five assists.

Huell scored 13 points in 21 minutes, showcasing his excellent jump-hook and impact defense, displaying traits of the dominant four-man UM believes he can be.

The sweet-shooting Vasiljevic put up 13, tied his season-high in minutes (28) and played heady off-the-ball defense, which greatly pleased Larranaga. Like the other freshmen, he’s coming along.

Davon Reed, as usual, was a rock. He scored 21 on 8-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds in 35 minutes. Fellow senior Kamari Murphy put up eight points and nine boards in 37 minutes.

Even though it used seven players and lost starting center Izundu to cramps in the second half, the Canes held off a late charge from the Yellow Jackets. Had they not, it would have been a big strike against them, in a league where defending your home court against .500 teams is a must.

Sometimes things just fall into place. For example: Larranaga, who rarely takes off his jacket during games, sweated through his shirt against Tech. For his postgame interview, he changed into a pullover he hadn’t worn in a while (since last year’s Sweet 16, if you’re wondering).

He found $28 in the pocket.

Now comes Clemson (14-11, 4-9) for a noon Saturday tip at the Watsco Center. Another day in the life on the bubble.

The Tigers, led by 6-7 senior Jaron Blossomgame (17.3 points), are “so talented offensively right now, I was up last night,” Larranaga said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

In typical Larranaga fashion, he had a story to tell.

After wiping his brow from the Georgia Tech win, he and his wife, Liz, went to dinner with friends. After arriving home around midnight, he reviewed Miami-Georgia Tech until 2 a.m. Needing to study Clemson, he put on the Tigers’ 73-68 win at Wake Forest, a common opponent that ripped apart the Hurricanes a month ago. “That doesn’t help,” Larranaga said. “Then I watched them play Virginia until 4 a.m.

“And then I put on CNN, and now I really can’t sleep.”

Sleep usually comes in April, anyway. He’s got miles to go.

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