Published January 13, 2015
Clemson lacked the necessary firepower to pull off the role of spoiler Saturday.
The Tigers shot just 40 percent, sank only three 3-pointers and lost 62-49 to the No. 6-ranked Miami Hurricanes, who clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference title outright on their third try.
Clemson (13-17, 5-13 ACC) endured its sixth consecutive loss, and its ninth in the past 10 games.
"I feel like we can play with everybody," coach Brad Brownell said. "We just haven't found ways to win some of these games. We get to a point where go through an offensive drought. Eventually, those things catch up to us. The margin for error is very small because of that."
Freshman Jordan Roper led the Tigers with 12 points, all in the first 5 minutes before Shane Larkin entered the game and began to guard him.
"Jordan got off to a great start for us," Brownell said. "They did a better job on him as the game wore on."
Devin Booker had 11 points for the Tigers in 23 minutes. K.J. McDaniels added nine points and six rebounds off the bench.
The Hurricanes had struggled on defense recently, but they clamped down and limited Clemson to one basket during a pivotal 9½-minute stretch to start the second half. That transformed a 25-all tie into a 38-28 Miami lead.
The Hurricanes celebrated by cutting down the net, a new ritual for the program.
"It's a piece of memorabilia you'll keep with you for a lifetime," said Larranaga, who is in his second year with the Hurricanes. "It's something the players feel is very, very special, because you don't get to do it all the time. Some programs do it almost annually, but we haven't done that here. And when you do anything for the first time, it's very, very exciting."
Kenny Kadji scored a season-high 23 points for the Hurricanes (24-6, 15-3), who clinched their first outright men's basketball league title after being foiled by consecutive losses to Duke and Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes tied the school record for victories set in 2001-02, when they went 24-8, and improved to 14-1 at home in their regular-season finale.
The league championship is the second for the Hurricanes, who shared the Big East Conference title in 2000. Now comes the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., where Miami will be top-seeded.
"That's not the last net I plan on cutting down," Trey McKinney Jones said. "The sky's the limit for us. If we play together, we have so many weapons."
Miami held a league opponent to 50 points or fewer for the seventh time. When it ended, Larranaga exhaled.
"I was less happy and more relieved, because I felt like we had started to struggle a little bit with our mental approach," he said. "No longer were the games as exciting and as much fun. It was more of a job.
"Today at halftime, I thought the most important message to the guys was to remember to enjoy the process. It's not about what's at the end of the rainbow. It's about enjoying the game. And I thought we did that."
When Kadji sank a 3-pointer for a 55-41 lead with 3:10 left, the Hurricanes ran upcourt grinning at each other to a deafening roar from the crowd, dressed as one in white ACC championship T-shirts. The game was the fifth sellout this year for the Hurricanes, traditional cellar-dwellers in conference attendance.
After the final seconds ticked off, confetti rained from the ceiling. The latest hoops success in Miami drew a salute from the city's other title team.
"Congrats to them Canes on becoming the ACC Champs!!" LeBron James tweeted.
Kadji, one of six seniors playing his final home game, went 4 for 6 from 3-point range. He added 12 rebounds to help Miami enjoy a 35-21 advantage on the boards. Classmate McKinney Jones scored 10 points.
Larkin came off the bench for the first time this season and struggled early, missing his first seven shots. But he hit a pair of important 3-pointers late and finished with 11 points.
The Heat's James lobbied for Larkin as conference player of the year. Larranaga also offered an endorsement.
"I don't think there has been a more valuable player to any team," the coach said.