|Reggie Johnson was a surprise returnee Wednesday night in Miami's surprise pasting of Duke. (US Presswire)|
Reggie Johnson admitted it doesn't even sound right.
"We beat Duke by 27," said Miami's veteran big man, who came back from a broken thumb a couple of weeks earlier than expected to give the Hurricanes a huge lift in the 90-63 victory over top-ranked Duke. "I thought it was going to come down to the wire."
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Instead, Miami didn't just take care of the Dukies. Johnson and the Hurricanes destroyed Coach K's team. The lead was 23 at the half and the Blue Devils never threatened. Johnson only scored two points and grabbed five boards in 19 minutes, but he kept The Streak alive. With all five starters in the lineup (Durand Scott missed the first three games), Jim Larranaga's team is now 6-0 with home victories against Duke and Michigan State and road victories against UMass and Central Florida.
Johnson said he just happened to have a doctor's appointment earlier today and he was cleared to play after being told his thumb injury, which he suffered in practice in late December, had healed quicker than expected.
"Honestly, I was thinking maybe before the N.C. State game [on Feb. 2]," he said. "But I'm a quick healer. I hurt my knee last year and came back quicker than they thought, and did it again this time."
Johnson's return makes life easier on everyone else. He's big, strong and commands attention in the post. That gives his teammates uncontested looks and his presence also improves the spacing on the offensive end. Durand Scott finished with 25, Kenny Kadji had 22, Shane Larkin finished with 18 points, 10 boards and five assists and Trey McKinney-Jones also got in double-figures.
"I think the team was excited when they found out I was coming back," Johnson said. "It was tough when I went down because the team had to adjust."
The first loss of the season came against Florida Gulf Coast without Scott. The other two came out in Hawaii without Johnson against Top 10 Arizona and an Indiana State team that got a game-winner from Jake Odum in overtime. It's no secret these days. Take off a key player and most teams are unable to sustain a high level. Look at Duke without Ryan Kelly or Missouri without Laurence Bowers. Johnson averaged a double-double prior to his injury -- and he makes the Hurricanes a legitimate Top 25 team, maybe even a contender for the ACC title. Miami improved to 14-3 and 5-0 in league play.
"Now, after you beat a team like Duke, other teams are going to come after you," Johnson said. "We need to stay humble and focused."
This team is legit with Johnson. They have experience, balance -- and now plenty of swagger after the rout over the nation's top team.
"You've got to pick your poison with us," Johnson said.