Coral Gables, FL – The sixth-ranked Miami Hurricanes will take their third shot at securing an outright ACC title, when they close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon at home against the Clemson Tigers.
Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes weren't the favorite to win the conference crown this season, but nonetheless, stand a win away from doing just that at 14-3 in-conference. However, what seemed to be a foregone conclusion a week ago has turned into a must win, as back-to-back losses to Duke and Georgia Tech leaves Miami only the slightest of margins, a game up on the Blue Devils (13-5) with one to play.
Brad Brownell's Tigers can play a bit of a spoiler in this one and head into the postseason on a high note. That would certainly be a welcome sight for a team that has lost five straight games entering the season finale. With Tuesday's 68-61 loss to Boston College, Clemson is now 13-16 overall and a meager 5-12 in the ACC.
Clemson holds an 11-8 series advantage, but Miami has won the last two meetings and is seeking the regular-season sweep after posting a 45-43 victory at Clemson on Feb. 17.
The Tigers shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and held a narrow 29-27 lead at the break, but lost their touch in the second half, shooting just .394 over the final 20 minutes in an eight-point loss. Clemson spoiled strong games from Devin Booker (19 points and eight boards), Milton Jennings (18 points, seven boards) and Damarcus Harrison (11 points, eight boards).
Finding offensive balance has been a real problem for the Tigers this season, as the team comes into the finale averaging 61.7 ppg, on a mere .425 shooting. The defensive effort has been much more consistent on the year, with foes netting just 59.6 ppg and being held just over 40 percent shooting (.412). Booker is the go-to-guy in the frontcourt for Clemson, leading the team in both scoring (13.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg). K.J. McDaniels (10.7 ppg) is next in line, but is questionable for this contest with an ankle injury. Jennings (10.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) gives the team another active contributor at both ends.
The Hurricanes are also known for strong defensive play, so it certainly was a little surprising that Georgia Tech was able to deliver on 51.7 percent from the floor in the upset of Miami this week. The 'Canes shot a solid .480 in the loss, but relinquished a five-point halftime lead, as Tech shot 6-of-10 from behind the arc over the final 20 minutes.
The numbers on the season remain strong at the defensive end for Miami, limiting the opposition to just 60.2 ppg and under 40 percent shooting (.393). Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin has really blossomed into a strong all- around player this year, pacing the team in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and assists (4.4 apg). Larkin is shooting .488 from the floor overall and is strong from behind the arc (.406 - 52-of-128). Fellow guards Durand Scott (13.2 ppg) and Trey McKinney Jones (9.1 ppg) provide plenty of backcourt depth, while Kenny Kadji (13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Reggie Johnson (8.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) give the team production up front.