Jim Larrañaga shed some clothing, and the crowd cheered. Then he reached with both arms into the air, palms open and eyes fiery, and it roared.
Miami appeared nicely positioned to top visiting Virginia Tech before Larrañaga’s second-half outburst, the result of perceived refereeing slights and his first technical foul in almost four years at UM. The Hurricanes had methodically built a 13-point lead with just over 12 minutes to play within the half-empty, fully drowsy BankUnited Center.
But with his team on the bubble and again failing to dominate a conference bottom-feeder, Larrañaga had enough. And frankly, he exploded.
“I can only remember taking off my jacket one time in my career before tonight,” Larrañaga said after his team responded to his courtside tirade with a second-wind rally and ran away from the Hokies for a 76-52 victory.
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“I remember it was at Bowling Green, and some of the people there said I should do it more often.”
This is Miami, after all.
“I guess it got a little hot,” joked Sheldon McClellan, who paced UM with 21 points.
One of the (admittedly minor) trends of the Internet age is the battalion of bloggers searching for statistical evidence to disprove abstract sports concepts like momentum and motivation.
Despite what the numbers say, Larrañaga’s players followed his angry dance with a cohesive enthusiasm that had been absent all night.
That much was palpable, as McClellan finished a crisp possession with a corner three, as Tonye Jekiri wrestled viciously for loose rebounds and won, as Angel Rodriguez found McClellan for a half-court alley-oop, even if it wasn’t numerically quantifiable.
But hey, maybe it was.
UM (17-9, 7-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) outscored Virginia Tech (10-16, 2-11) by 10 over the first 27:22, also known as the pre-jacket toss period.
Post-jacket toss, the Hurricanes held a 14-point advantage.
“I think from that 12 minute mark on, I saw the team we could be,” Larrañaga said. “Our defense was switching on the ball screens. Guys called out switches. We shared the ball on offense. We ran the floor. Those are all the things we’ve been trying to emphasize and are capable of doing, but do sporadically.”
With less than three weeks left until the ACC tournament, Miami had to make sure it didn’t stumble Wednesday to avoid sending this oft-described roller coaster of a season off the rails.
The Hurricanes have excelled at times against the league’s best competition and floundered against its weakest.
Sensing some trap-game mentality, Larrañaga invited motivational speaker Ric Elias for a pregame talk with his team. Elias is a Harvard graduate, CEO and one of the survivors of Flight 1549, which crash landed in New York’s Hudson River in 2009.
While Elias’ words resonated, Larrañaga’s actions struck. Now UM embarks on the most important stretch of its season following its most inspired, if condensed, performance in a while.
Jekiri finished with 15 points and his 15 rebounds almost outpaced Virginia Tech’s entire effort (19). Angel Rodriguez managed 11 points and added three steals. The Canes used 21 assists to make 26 shots.
As for Larrañaga’s fire, Jekiri said, “We see that every day.”