Shane Larkin sent his University of Miami teammates a group text message around midnight Wednesday as they got off a long bus ride home after an embarrassing loss to Florida Gulf Coast University. He was feeling “really down’’ and wanted to know what he could do to energize the group.
Friday night, the sophomore point guard sent out another message with his inspired play.
Larkin scored a career-high 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, as the Hurricanes defeated Jacksonville 73-57 at the BankUnited Center. His previous high was 18 against North Carolina-Greensboro last January. From the start of the game, it was clear Larkin was in command. He barked out orders, yelled “I got ball! I got ball!’’ and sparked a team that had lacked focus.
“Your point guard is your leader, the extension of your coach out on the floor and I think us seeing him take that leadership role made us want to work that much harder,’’ said senior center Julian Gamble, who started in place of injured Reggie Johnson. “We had really good energy, and that started with Shane. He had that energy for the entire 40 minutes. I didn’t really notice all the points until I looked up at the scoreboard at the end.’’
Coach Jim Larranaga and his staff have been trying to get all the players to be more vocal. He describes his team as quiet and laid back and had been frustrated that they weren’t communicating enough.
“Shane had a great night, not only scoring but controlling the tempo,’’ Larranaga said. “Coaches have asked these guys to be more vocal, and their way of having a conversation is sending a text message. So, it’s all right. At least then they’re communicating. You can’t be talking at the pregame meal, talking in the locker room, talking back in the dormitories and then all of a sudden get on the court and be quiet. The whole game is about communication.’’
UM came out with a sense of purpose after the loss at Florida Gulf Coast and a loss to Division II Saint Leo in the preseason.
The Hurricanes raced to an 11-0 lead as Jacksonville missed its first eight shots. Larranaga said they scripted three plays to start the game and executed all three, which got them off to a good start. They led 27-23 at halftime. Their biggest struggle was stopping sharpshooter Dylan Fritsch, who had 15 points at intermission and wound up with 23, including six three-pointers.
Johnson missed the game with a sore tailbone. He fell taking a charge against Florida Gulf Coast and missed two days of practice. He is expected back Tuesday.
Gamble filled in nicely, contributing 13 points, two steals and a block. Erik Swoope added intensity, defense and seven points off the bench, delighting the crowd with two dunks, one a high-flying one-hander. Trey McKinney Jones added 11 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists.
The Canes shot 63 percent in the second half, and 59 percent for the game. Things went so well for UM that the game ended with walk-ons Justin Heller and Steve Sorenson on the floor, along with 7-foot freshman Tonye Jekiri.