CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- At one point, it seemed impossible.
Then it became expected. And it then it became elusive.
But finally, after two consecutive losses and years of mediocrity, the Miami Hurricanes have won their first ever ACC regular season championship.
Kenny Kadji scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the No. 6 Miami Hurricanes to a 62-49 win over Clemson to clinch an outright ACC regular season championship on Saturday afternoon as five seniors played their final home game at UM.
“I told the players after the game, I was less happy and more relieved after we won the game,”coach Jim Larranaga said, “because I felt that we had started to struggle a little bit with our town mental approach. We’d gotten distracted maybe because of all of the media attention and no longer were the games as exciting and as much fun. It was more of a job.
“And I felt like today at halftime, the most important message to the guys was to remember to enjoy the process. It’s not about the joy at the end of the rainbow, it’s the job of playing the game you love and I thought we did that.”
Miami (24-6, 15-3) came into the game with losses to Duke and Georgia Tech with an outright ACC title on the line. Regardless if they won or lost against Clemson, they would have been labeled as ACC champions either way. The school recognized them as such by distributing 8,000 white t-shirts with the “U’ logo and the words “ACC Regular Season Champions”.
Still, there is a difference between co-champions and champions. In addition, the Hurricanes have ended their skid, which included three losses in four games,
and will begin play in the ACC tournament on March 15 at noon in Greensboro, N.C. and will face the winner of the 8/9 matchup.
“We accomplished one of our goals and that’s not the last net that I plan on cutting down,” said senior guard Trey McKinney-Jones.
Julian Gamble celebrates with the students after the game.
A sellout crowd was on hand to watch the last home game for Miami seniors Durand Scott, Trey McKinney-Jones, Reggie Johnson, Julian Gamble, and Kadji. The seniors were honored before the game and celebrated with the fans by going into the student section after the game.
“It’s been amazing,” Gamble said of the crowd support this season. “You look around the country and teams in our conference like North Carolina and Duke, that traditionally have a great student following. In the past that’s not something we had. We know at a place like Miami and people have so many options of things they can do so it means a lot that they are choosing to see us. We just want to play our absolute hardest for them.”
The game was tied at 25 at halftime before UM took control of the game to start the second half using a 7-0 run on a 3-pointer by Kadji and four points from Scott to take a 38-28 lead, their largest lead at the time.
After Clemson ended the run, Shane Larkin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Miami a 44-34 lead with 7:27 left.
It was Kadji who struck again with another 3-pointer with 5:36 remaining to push the UM lead to 49-38. Another 3 by Kadji and a dunk by McKinney-Jones had the crowd on its feet in the closing minutes.
“Shane did a great job of driving the ball and they were helping on him,” Kadji said. “I just had to shoot the ball and I think I shot the ball pretty well.”
Larkin, an ACC Player of the Year candidate, was 0 for 7 to start the game before making the two key 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 11 points.
“Shane Larkin has led us from the start of the season right until today and I don’t think there’s been a more valuable player to any team,” Larranaga said.
Miami started all five seniors with Larkin on the bench. With Larkin on the sidelines, Clemson point guard Jordan Roper took advantage scoring all 12 points for the Tigers, who led 12-11 before Larkin entered at the 14:18 mark.
When Larkin returned, Roper was held scoreless the rest of the game, but still led Clemson (13-17, 5-13) in scoring.
Notes: Larkin started the second half as Johnson sat in favor of Gamble. … A decision on who will start at center in the future is yet to be determined Larranaga said after the game. … SG Garrius Adams would have been the sixth senior honored, but Adams is redshirting after a knee injury and will be back for the 2013-14 season. … Miami finished 14-1 at the BankUnited Center, which included five sellouts after coming into the season. … Allan Houston was in attendance as a scout for the Knicks. … Miami Heat owner Micky Arison and former Hurricane great Jim Kelly were also in attendance.
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