By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In terms of atmosphere, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center exist at different ends of the spectrum in ACC men’s basketball.
UVa played at Cameron last month and had to contend not only with the defending NCAA champion Blue Devils, but with a thunderous sellout crowd.
“Their fans, they definitely live up to all their hype,” Virginia’s Joe Harris said after the game.
Harris, a 6-6 freshman, will play in the BankUnited Center for the first time Saturday, when the Cavaliers (3-5, 12-10) meet the Hurricanes (2-6, 13-9) at 2 p.m. His older teammates have given him an idea of what he can expect.
“They were talking about how it’s pretty dead in here and how [the ‘Canes] don’t get a lot of fan support,” Harris said Friday night after UVa’s shootaround at the 7,200-seat arena. “So we’re going to have to bring our own energy.”
When Virginia played here last February, a listless crowd that was generously listed at 3,909 saw Miami rally for a 74-62 win. Mustapha Farrakhan never got off the bench for the Wahoos in that game. His classmate Mike Scott played 22 minutes but failed to score.
“O for 7. You remember that?” Scott said Friday night, shaking his head in disbelief.
Scott won’t be available Saturday. He’s on crutches after having season-ending surgery on his left ankle. But Farrakhan, a 6-4 senior, will play against the ‘Canes, and he’s coming off a game in which he saved the ‘Hoos from what would have been a devastating defeat.
Farrakhan scored six points in the final 36 seconds Wednesday night to help UVa, which led by 16 at halftime, edge Clemson 49-47 at John Paul Jones Arena.
“Mu’s final six points were crucial,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “and it maybe could have been eight, but it worked out OK.”
Farrakhan was fouled by Clemson’s Tanner Smith with 2.8 seconds remaining. Farrakhan injured his left knee during the play and, after UVa athletic trainer Ethan Saliba came on the court to offer assistance, was not allowed to shoot the free throws.
On Thursday, however, Farrakhan was a full participant during practice at JPJ.
“Sprained it a little bit,” he said afterward. “Just wearing a brace now, trying to calm it down as much as I can before Saturday.”
Farrakhan finished with a game-high 21 points against Clemson, the fourth time in his college career he’s scored at least 20. Each of those games has come this season.
Clemson had tied the game with a 19-4 run when Farrakhan pulled up for a 13-foot jumper in the final minute. Had he missed, nobody in the building would have been surprised to see the Tigers go on to victory. But Farrakhan’s shot dropped through the net, making it 44-42. He then made two free throws with 23 seconds to play and two more with 11 seconds remaining.
“He’s a really good player making a big-time play,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said at JPJ.
Farrakhan averaged 0.9 points as a freshman, 4.3 as a sophomore and 6.5 as a junior. He’s at 13.1 this season.
Early in his career, Farrakhan said Thursday, he might not have taken that jump shot, “just knowing that probably wasn’t my place, unless it got down to that point where I had to. But this time I just took it upon myself to just try to make a play for our team, whether it was me shooting it or getting somebody an open shot.”
It’s no longer uncommon to see Farrakhan contribute in the clutch for Virginia.
“It’s not easy, but it’s just about being more confident to step up and do that,” he said. “There’s always going to be an amount of pressure. I just try to embrace it as much as I can.”
Virginia’s captains are Scott, Farrakhan and senior Will Sherrill. Scott’s injury has forced Farrakhan to modify his leadership style.
“I just feel like I have to be more vocal,” Farrakhan said. “I’m more of a type to lead by my play or by example. But I feel like my voice is important to the team when I’m locked in and just giving myself and my voice up to the team.”
Virginia will try again Saturday to end a streak that has grown uncomfortably long. The Cavaliers have lost 12 straight games in this state since winning at Florida State on Feb. 17, 2001.
Harris, who’s coming off the first scoreless game of his college career, has had some of his best performances away from JPJ. He scored 19 points against Washington at the Maui Invitational, 24 in a win at Minnesota, 10 in a victory at Virginia Tech, 15 at Duke.
“I don’t mind traveling or anything like that, flying on the plane and rolling in,” Harris said. “I think it’s kind of cool checking out all the different arenas and going against the opposing fans.”
If this trip feels different for Harris and his teammates, it’s because Billy Baron isn’t with them. Baron, a freshman guard who roomed with Harris at UVa, left the team Thursday. He’s transferring to the University of Rhode Island, where his father, Jim, is head coach.
“Bill was like my best friend, and we formed a really good relationship, even before we ever came to Virginia,” Harris said. “It is a little bit weird, but as long as he’s happy, in a place where he feels comfortable, I think he’s doing what’s best for him.”