Jim Larranaga has coached in enough tournaments to know that teams often come out flat for noon games. College kids like staying up late, and playing a game just after breakfast doesn’t feel quite right.
He warned his ninth-ranked and top-seeded University of Miami Hurricanes of that on the eve of Friday’s ACC tournament quarterfinal. He urged them to wake up with a jolt and arrive at the Greensboro Coliseum with boundless energy.
They followed his advice, slapped at every early loose ball and raced to a 13-point lead over Boston College. But the young and fearless Eagles rallied, led at halftime and scared the bejeezus out of the Canes before UM pulled out a 69-58 win with the help of some late-game Shane Larkin heroics.
The No. 1 seed is now 36-2 against No. 8 seeds, and Miami avoided being the first top seed to lose its opener since 1997. The Hurricanes (25-6, 15-3 ACC) advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against No. 5 seed North Carolina State, which cruised to a 75-56 win over fourth-seed Virginia in the mid-afternoon game. The Wolfpack has won five of its past six games, and UM needed a buzzer-beating tip-in to beat N.C. State earlier in the season.
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“Well, that was easy,” Larranaga said sarcastically as he arrived at the postgame news conference after the win. “That was a terrific win for us. Boston College is a difficult team for us to match up with. We knew we would be in for a dog fight.”
LARKIN STEPS UP
Just when it seemed UM’s ACC tournament dreams were fading, along came the gutsy Larkin, the smallest man on the court, to save the day. The Canes had fallen behind 42-37 with 14 minutes to go. Durand Scott’s layup closed the gap to three, and then Larkin took over. He put Miami ahead 43-42 on a pair of driving layups and knocked down a three-pointer a minute later that ejected the smattering of UM fans out of their seats.
Then, with just under two minutes to go, Larkin stole the ball from Olivier Hanlan and buried a three to give UM a 60-55 lead. Always eager to include his teammates, Larkin refused to take sole credit for the steal and timely three.
“It wasn’t just me who got the steal,” Larkin said, pointing out that Kenny Kadji was in on the trap and Rion Brown “come out of nowhere” to save the ball out of bounds and keep the play alive.
Larkin led all scorers with 20 points, 15 in the second half. UM shot nearly 70 percent in the second half after shooting 31 percent before intermission.
“He loves those moments,” Kadji said of Larkin. “It’s like he likes being down and having to be the hero. He’s pretty good at it. Now every time we’re down, we look at him and it’s like, ‘It’s time to carry us.’ He’s improved so much from last year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player get that much confidence and play that well from one year to the next. He’s not afraid of the moment. It’s great to have a player like that.”
“He’s so good at what he does,” the coach said. “A lot of times you’ll see him in the first half try to get the ball to Kenny or Durand or Trey [McKinney Jones] or Rion, and then in the second half, he starts to pick his spots to attack and score, or find the open man. We absolutely needed that because I thought in the first half we were settling for perimeter shots, and we needed more balance.”
Larkin also got high marks for stifling the red-hot freshman Hanlan, limiting him to 14 points a day after he scored 41 points against Georgia Tech.
Kadji finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. McKinney Jones chipped in 12, including an emphatic one-handed dunk with 17 seconds left to put an exclamation point on the win. Patrick Heckmann led Boston College with 15 points.
The Eagles missed 10 of their first 12 shots and looked like they would pose little challenge. But they switched to a zone defense, slowed the game down and threw the Canes off their rhythm.
Boston College ended the first half on a 19-4 run and led 27-25 at halftime. Larkin said he never doubted the Hurricanes would win.
“When they tied it up 23-23, we could have easily got down on ourselves, fussed between each other, but we stuck together and that’s something the seniors and Coach have stressed over the year, to stay together. ‘Together’ is the last thing we say to each other in the huddle, so if we do something wrong, we don’t let it get us down. We just stay together.”