CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The Miami Hurricanes seemed rattled by the arrival of the Atlantic Coast Conference season. They started their league opener slowly and shot poorly, and their best player had a bad game.
Yet the 25th-ranked Hurricanes managed a 78-68 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday. Perhaps the ragged win was an indication they might just be a factor in the conference race.
Sophomore James Dews scored a career-high 18 points and junior Jimmy Graham matched a career high with 13 for the Hurricanes (14-1, 1-0), who won despite missing their first 13 3-point tries. They fell behind by 12 points early, then outscored Georgia Tech 31-11 over the next 11½ minutes.
"I'm very pleased with us finding other ways to win the game," coach Frank Haith said. "The thing you've got to hold your hat on is defense and rebounding and not turning the ball over and winning the effort game to give yourself a chance, and I thought we did that."
High-scoring guard Jack McClinton went without a basket for the first 22 minutes, and the Hurricanes finished 2-for-19 from 3-point range. But they outrebounded Georgia Tech and forced 18 turnovers, which led to 24 points.
Georgia Tech's Jeremis Smith had a season-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Hurricanes have matched the best start in the program's history, with their lone loss to Winthrop. They hope for a better showing in the ACC after finishing last a year ago, when they were riddled by injuries.
Haith declined to say whether he thinks his team is underrated.
"I don't think that's for us to figure out," he said. "Our job is just to continue to play."
The fast start by the Yellow Jackets (7-8, 0-2) couldn't reverse their slow start this season. It has been six years since they had such a poor overall record this late.
"What is it? We're not bad guys," forward Gani Lawal said. "We don't go out and do drugs and hang out in late hours of the night. We just want to know why we can't pick up the wins that we want."
Georgia Tech took a 22-10 lead as the Hurricanes missed 10 consecutive shots, but the exuberant Graham came off the bench to spark their comeback. He scored seven consecutive Miami points and started an 11-0 run that cut the margin to 22-21.
Following one basket he retreated up court and screamed as he waved his arms as the crowd roared.
"I knew when I went in there that I had to give us an emotional lift," Graham said. "When I'm out there, I'm a different person."
"He's an angry man," Dews said with a laugh. "His energy excites all of us."
Georgia Tech tried to get emotional, too, but a technical foul on coach Paul Hewitt failed to slow Miami's surge.
"Sometimes it seems like Coach Hewitt wants these wins more than we do," Lawal said. "We have to use the fuel of our coach to get ignited out there on the court."
Shortly before halftime, the Hurricanes went ahead to stay, 31-29, on a basket by Dews - the first for the Miami backcourt.
"That got me going, and it carried on to the next half," Dews said.
He made the Hurricanes' first 3-pointer for a 46-38 lead, then hit another to make it 51-40.
McClinton had six turnovers and shot poorly but still finished with 14 points. Brian Asbury scored 11, and Dwayne Collins had five blocks and five rebounds.
"We did a good job on the perimeter," Hewitt said. "We talked about the rebounding, and that was one of the reasons we lost the game."
The Hurricanes had 15 offensive rebounds and a 39-35 advantage on the boards. They also made 26 of 32 free throws.
Anthony Morrow added 17 points and Lewis Clinch had 13 for the Yellow Jackets, who ran off 12 straight points to lead 14-4.
The Hurricanes tied the score at 27 on Anthony King's basket. They were up 33-31 at halftime, and outscored Georgia Tech 18-9 to start the second half.
The Yellow Jackets were never closer than seven points in the final 14 minutes.