It was Shane Larkin bobblehead night at BankUnited Center Sunday, and the former University of Miami star watched the Hurricanes’ game against Clemson from a courtside table near the UM bench, along with Knicks teammates Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early. They are in town to play the Heat on Monday night.
The Canes, desperate to end a three-game skid, made some electric plays reminiscent of Larkin’s thrilling Sweet 16 run, and knocked off Clemson 56-45.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga, who wore a light blue shirt and tie in memory of North Carolina legend Dean Smith, called Sunday’s win “huge.’’
Sheldon McClellan led the Hurricanes with 19 points, and the team drew energy from a trio of threes by Ivan Cruz Uceda, heady guard play from Angel Rodriguez, and a dominating performance by Tonye Jekiri, who had 16 rebounds, five blocks and a rare driving dunk.
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Despite standing 7 feet tall, Jekiri has been reluctant to dunk, which is why his spectacular play, beginning with a fake pass, ejected the crowd of 6,351 from its seats. Asked how it felt to soar along the baseline and slam the ball, Jekiri broke into a huge grin and said: “It felt great. I saw myself going so high above the rim. It felt good.’’
McClellan called Jekiri’s dunk “a game-changing play’’ and added, “It picked us up mentally, physically, just made us play harder. I was pretty shocked that he did that.’’
Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, holding opponents to 38 percent shooting in conference games. The Tigers did even better against the Canes in the first half. Miami shot just 29 percent (8 of 28), and made only two two-point field goals before intermission.
Rodriguez, the team’s leading scorer earlier in the season, seemed to be sinking deeper into his shooting slump. He missed his first four shots and was scoreless at halftime.
Cruz Uceda gave the Hurricanes a lift with three consecutive three-pointers to give UM an 18-15 lead at the 7:51 mark, but Clemson held a one-point edge at the half, 25-24.
McClellan opened the second half with a three-pointer to put UM ahead 27-25, and then Rodriguez made his first basket of the night to spark a 17-2 run over the next seven minutes. The streak included a Rodriguez three, Jekiri’s dunk, and a pair of McClellan dunks, the second of which game UM a 14-point advantage — its biggest lead of the night.
But Tigers (14-9, 6-5 ACC) chipped away and got to within three, 46-43, with six minutes remaining. The Hurricanes went 1 for 7 during that stretch. Just when it seemed momentum had swung in Clemson’s direction, Rodriguez stole the ball from a scrum and then Manu Lecomte hit a pair of threes from atop the key to widen the gap to 52-43.
Larrañaga had challenged McClellan to score more and Rodriguez to be more of a leader. Both obliged, and the Hurricanes (15-8, 5-5 ACC) were able to celebrate for the first time in four games. The coach said his team was more focused than it had been in recent games.
“It was a happy locker room,’’ said McClellan. “There had been a lot of sad faces the past couple of games, so this was a sigh of relief. Clemson had won four straight in the ACC, which is hard to do. They’re a great team, well coached, so this was a big win for us. Now we have to build on it.’’
The Canes hit the road for games at Wake Forest on Feb. 11 and Boston College on Feb. 15.
▪ Omar Sherman was injured and didn’t play Sunday. Larrañaga started Davon Reed, freshman Ja’Quan Newton, McClellan, Rodriguez, and Jekiri.