Larkin scores 28 as Miami beats Tar Heels in ACC final


By AARON BEARD

AP Basketball Writer

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jim Larranaga snipped the final strand of net hanging from the rim, then faced his players and cheering fans to twirl it in the air before draping it around his neck.

There’s no mistaking Miami for just a football school anymore. Not after 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 points 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 surprising run to its first ACC regular-season title in program history. And 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.”

Miami ended up getting the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament’s East Region. The Hurricanes will face 15th-seeded Pacific on Friday in their tournament opener in Austin, Texas.

Larkin was chosen the tournament’s MVP after finishing as runner-up for league player of the year. But he was at his best when the Hurricanes needed him to complete their climb from being picked fifth in the preseason poll to ACC champion.

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 — who were all part of the team that was a last-place seed in the 2010 tournament that made the program’s first run to the semifinals.

As the confetti fell from the rafters 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 taking over a program that hadn’t come to the ACC tournament seeded better than fifth before this year. He lost in the ACC final in 1982 and 1983 as an assistant at Virginia but finally earned the elusive title.

“From day one, these guys have embraced our approach,” Larranaga 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, though they stumbled by losing three of five coming into Greensboro.

Miami shot 51 percent and made 12 of 22 3-pointers — six from McKinney Jones, four from Larkin. Miami used its size advantage against North Carolina’s four-guard lineup to take a 36-28 rebounding advantage that led to 13 second-chance points.

The Hurricanes needed every bit of it to beat the Tar Heels for the third time. Miami blew North Carolina out by 26 points in February but didn’t put this one away until the final minutes.

Hairston scored 28 points with six of the Tar Heels’ 13 3-pointers, one shy of tying the program’s team record in the tournament. But it wasn’t enough to secure their first ACC title since 2008 nor coach Roy Williams’ 700th career victory.

For the Tar Heels, the third straight finals appearance didn’t appear likely after that humiliating loss to the Hurricanes on Feb. 9. But that’s when Williams inserted Hairston into the four-guard starting lineup, a move that changed everything for the Tar Heels.

Miami finally took control when Larkin drove by Dexter Strickland for a layup and a 76-71 lead, then McKinney Jones struck again with a 3 from the left corner off a feed from Rion Brown that made it 79-71 with 1:36 left — the Hurricanes’ biggest lead to that point.

Larkin went 6-for-6 at the foul line in the final minute to keep Miami in control.

No. 10 OHIO STATE 50

No. 22 WISCONSIN 43

CHICAGO — DeShaun Thomas scored 17 points and Ohio State used some stout defense to win their conference-best fifth Big Ten tournament title.

Thomas was 6 for 19 from the field, but made some big free throws down the stretch as Ohio State won the championship for the third time in the last four years. Aaron Craft had nine points and six rebounds, and LaQuinton Ross delivered a couple of huge plays for the Buckeyes (26-7).

Travon Jackson scored 10 points for the Badgers (23-11), who shot 38.3 percent from the field. None of his teammates reached double figures, with Sam Dekker next up at eight points.

MISSISSIPPI 66

No. 13 FLORIDA 63

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Murphy Holloway scored 23 points and Marshall Henderson had 21 as Mississippi Rebels gave coach Andy Kennedy his first NCAA tournament berth with the upset in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

The Rebels (26-8) have won seven of eight and earned their first tournament title since 1981 and second ever. Reginald Buckner added 13 points for Ole Miss.

Mike Rosario had 18 points and Kenny Boynton added 13 for the Gators (26-7), who haven’t won this tournament since wrapping up a three-peat in 2007. They go into the NCAA tournament 0-6 in games decided by six points or less.

The Gators had a final chance to force overtime. Scottie Wilbekin missed both free throws with 4.2 seconds left, and Boynton’s last gasp 3 glanced off the rim after he took a step back to make sure he was over the line.

No. 16 SAINT LOUIS 62

No. 25 VCU 56

NEW YORK — Kwamain Mitchell scored 19 points, including a huge 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and tournament MVP Dwayne Evans added 16 for Saint Louis, which won its first Atlantic 10 tourney title.

Top-seeded Saint Louis (27-6) led 45-32 with less than 12 minutes left, but the second-seeded Rams were within a point 3 minutes later.

Cody Ellis hit a 3-pointer on the Billikens’ next possession, then made another clutch 3 for a 57-51 lead with more than 2 minutes left.

Treveon Graham led VCU (26-8) with 20 points.

 

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