Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Sports

Miami Hurricanes win ACC tourney title

GREENSBORO, N.C. — There's no mistaking Miami for just a football school anymore.

Not after Jim Larranaga guided the once-struggling Hurricanes to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference with a team that looks like it can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Shane Larkin scored eight of his career-high 28 in the final 2½ minutes to help No. 9 Miami pull away and beat North Carolina 87-77 in Sunday's ACC tournament final.

Trey McKinney Jones added a career-high 20 points for the top-seeded Hurricanes (27-6), including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 6:27 left that started Miami's final push toward its first tournament title.

It came one week after Miami completed its run to its first ACC regular-season title. Just as Larkin had promised, the Hurricanes weren't satisfied.

"We want more," senior Julian Gamble said. "After we clinched the outright regular-season title at home and we (cut down the nets), we were like, 'Wasn't that the funnest thing you've ever done?' We wanted to go to Greensboro and do it again."

Larkin, the tournament MVP, was at his best when the Hurricanes needed him to complete their climb from the fifth-place pick in the preseason poll.

In a terrific back-and-forth game filled with big shots, the Hurricanes finally slowed P.J. Hairston and the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-10) enough down the stretch to secure what amounted to a road win in front of UNC's home-state crowd.

It was an emotional moment for Gamble and fellow seniors Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson, all members of the last-place seed in the 2010 tournament that made the program's first run to the semifinals.

As the confetti fell after the final horn, Scott leapt into Gamble's arms then shared a big hug with Johnson as he fought back tears. In the locker room, Johnson talked with reporters with his left arm wrapped around the championship trophy in his lap.

Then there was Larranaga, the second-year coach who took over a program that hadn't come to the ACC tournament seeded better than fifth. He lost in the ACC final in 1982 and 1983 as an assistant at Virginia but finally earned the elusive title.

"From Day 1, these guys have embraced our approach," he said. "That doesn't mean that every day was great. It means we went through a transition of learning. Once they did learn, they felt good about it. And they kept trying to get better."

Miami won its first 13 league games to drain the suspense from the regular-season race but stumbled, losing three of five coming into Greensboro.

"I don't know about the other guys on the team, but I do a lot of research online, seeing what people are saying about us individual players on our team, and I just kept seeing that everywhere: 'They peaked too early, they're not going to do anything, they're finished,' " Larkin said. "And that just motivated me to go out there and play as hard as I could."

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