The Miami Hurricanes righted their ship following a three game losing streak, defeating the Clemson Tigers 54-45 Sunday evening at the BankUnited Center.
“There have been a lot of sad faces in the locker room the past couple of games. So this win was a sigh of relief,” junior guard Sheldon McClellan said.
The Hurricanes (15-8, 5-5 ACC) suddenly find their NCAA tournament hopes alive once again, albeit just barely. It will assuredly take more than 20 wins for Miami to reach the Big Dance, and with just eight games remaining before conference postseason play, it is almost essential Jim Larrañaga’s squad wins six games down the stretch.
Last week, Miami lost to No. 9 Louisville and rival Florida State. The week before, the Hurricanes lost to ACC doormat Georgia Tech in blowout fashion at home. Larrañaga’s team was very much at a crossroads entering Sunday’s game.
“Thursday, I sat down with the team and we discussed roles. I gave direction to each and everyone of them… I told Sheldon ‘You are our leading scorer and you need to be finding shots,’” Larrañaga said after the game.
McClellan responded with one of his best games of the season, scoring 19 points on 6-8 shooting. Senior center Tonye Jekiri scored six points and grabbed 16 rebounds for Miami.
Clemson (14-9, 6-5 ACC) entered Sunday’s contest on a four-game winning streak, and had won five of their last six. It has been a strong season for Clemson, who finished a poor 5-13 in conference play last year.
“They had won four in a row in the ACC, which is very hard to do,” McClellan said.
The Hurricanes found themselves down 25-24 at half after shooting a paltry 8-28 from the field. Freshman James Palmer, team captain Angel Rodriguez, and Jekiri combined to shoot just 1-14 in the half.
Miami, losers of three straight, decided enough was enough.
The Canes defense roared to life Sunday evening, holding the Tigers to just 45 points. Clemson shot only 33 percent from the field, and attempted only one free throw all game.
Sunday brought a pleasant crowd to the BUC, with the first 4,000 fans receiving Shane Larkin bobbleheads. The former Miami standout and current New York Knick was in attendance for the Hurricanes’ victory and talked to the team in the locker room after the game. Fellow Knicks Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Cleanthony Early accompanied Larkin on Sunday.
Next, Larrañaga’s team faces Wake Forest (11-13, 3-8 ACC). The Demon Deacons lost in blowout fashion at Georgia Tech (11-12, 2-9 ACC) on Saturday 73-59.