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Miami-Duke conjures up memories of ‘the slap’

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It happened nearly a year ago in Miami’s win over Duke in Coral Gables, and when it did, it caused almost as much fuss then as the comments of Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman disparaging San Francisco 49er receiver Michael Crabtree did after last Sunday’s NFC championship game.

With the two teams set to meet again at the same scene Wednesday night in a game to be nationally telecast (ESPN2, 7:30 ET tip), it comes up again.

The slap.

With under seven minutes left in last year’s meeting in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes were up by a whopping 28 points on their way to a 90-63 victory over then the nation’s No. 1 ranked team.

After a missed free throw, the Hurricanes were dropping back on defense when guard Shane Larkin bent down to give the court a quick slap with both hands, and his teammates quickly followed suit.

Oh, the horror.

Miami, which gave up its basketball program back in the 1970s, was “mocking” or “pocking fun at” one of the most hallowed members of college basketball’s elite, the Duke Blue Devils.

At least that’s the way much of the national media saw it the next day.

A reporter covering Duke for a North Carolina newspaper wrote that the Hurricanes had “taunted” the Blue Devils with the gesture that, one can only assume, is the personal property of Duke and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski, who popularized the floor slap when he was playing for the Blue Devils in the late 1990s.

Guard Quinn Cook told the reporter the slap “disrespected” him and his Blue Devil teammates.

Which is all nonsense, of course.

Duke players may slap the court periodically during games as a means of keeping focus on defense, but it’s hardly an exclusive ploy.

“I can’t remember when I started doing that,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Tuesday, “but it was at least 25 years ago where our players slapped the floor -- but in practice.”

Note: Do the math. That was at least a decade before Wojciechowski was a Blue Devil.

“Never did it in a game like Duke does,” Larranaga continued.

At least not until Miami great and pro football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, sitting courtside at the BankUnited Center enjoying watching the Hurricanes’ rout of the Blue Devils, caught the attention of Larkin and his teammates and urged them to do it.

“I didn’t mean no disrespect,” Larkin said afterward. “It was just a spur of the moment thing we did as a team.”

In fact, Larranaga says now that it should have been taken as a “compliment,” not a slap at Duke personally.

“I didn’t instruct them to do it,” Larranaga said, “and most of our players didn’t even know that that’s what Duke did.”

That the “floor slap” will be a critical motivating factor for the Blue Devils in this upcoming game isn’t very likely. These are radically different teams from a year ago.

The Hurricanes lost their top six scorers from the 2012-13 team, and the Blue Devils have lost two starters from the five who took the floor for the opening tip last January.

Duke’s top two scorers this time around are forward Jabari Parker (19.1 ppg), a freshman, and forward Rodney Hood (17.9 ppg), who sat out last year as a transfer from Mississippi State.

Gone are stars Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry plus Ryan Kelly, who did not play against the Hurricanes at Miami because of an injury. (Kelly was a key figure in the rematch in Cameron Indoor Stadium more than a month later.)

Senior guard Rion Brown, who played 17 minutes off the bench and scored just four points against the Blue Devils in that Miami win, is the Hurricanes’ leading scorer this season with his 14.1 average.

“This is a new year,” Rion Brown said. “A new team. It’s totally different. But you still have the same excitement. We’re definitely looking to win this game just like we did last year.”

The Hurricanes and Blue Devils also have played each other since the “slap” game with Duke winning in overtime in March with the help of 36 points from Kelly, which takes a little away from the “revenge” factor.

But maybe only a little.

Miami forward Donnovan Kirk, the team’s No. 2 scorer and leading rebounder, remembers watching last year’s Miami win on television in his dorm room at DePaul. It motivated him, he said, and he expects Duke to “come out with some fire” this time because of what happened a year ago.

Oh, yes. He remembers the “slap.”

“I said, ‘Ah, man. That is great,’ ” Kirk said. “I remember one time it happened at my last school. It was one of the best feelings ever. I hope to be able to experience with them here.”


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