Photos courtesy Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
On one hand, Saturday’s outcome was a mere few games in the making. On the other, Miami’s blowout win over Clemson, 62-49, to cut down the nets as outright ACC regular season champions was in the works for more than a decade.
After spending years behind the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the conference, the Canes were in the driver’s seat throughout the 2012-13 season. That is, until two games prior to beating down Clemson. First, star guard Shane Larkin and Co. headed down Tobacco Road and nearly took care of business against the national powerhouse that is Duke. However, the return of Ryan Kelly from injury (and his 36 points) proved too much in a 79-76 loss.
The few days the team was afforded to recover proved not enough time, unfortunately. With the chance to wrap up the regular season crown against a struggling Georgia Tech squad, the team instead lost in heartbreaking fashion. Marcus Georges-Hunt followed his own miss with a tip-in at the buzzer to hand Miami its second loss in as many games and three in its previous four.
Finally, the weekend arrived, and with it some fresh legs and fresh game play. Miami clamped down defensively on a Clemson team that entered the contest losers of five straight.
The U made that six straight in holding an ACC opponent under 50 points for the seventh time this year.
“One thing we really focused on was just being down in the stance, and going back to that very basic thing,” center Julian Gamble said. “It shows how big a difference it can make, because we were a lot quicker getting to the ball and guarding guys who were driving.”
During a pivotal, 9.5-minute stretch to open the second half, the Canes only allowed one Tigers basket. It was that type of defensive effort that helped seal up the game and thus the title. However, coach Jim Larranega says it was not due to any real coaching or adjustments during the halftime break. Instead, the second-year coach just kept it simple.
“I was less happy and more relieved, because I felt like we had started to struggle a little bit with our mental approach,” he told reporters afterwards. “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.”
It had become difficult to see any rainbow whatsoever through all the storm clouds in the history of Miami basketball. Saturday’s win gave the program its first ACC title since joining the conference, and its first since winning the Big East crown back in 2000.
This title was more than a few games in the making, and more than a decade. Finally, on Saturday, fans, coaches and players alike were all finally able to enjoy the process.
Finally, they were able to catch a glimpse of what was at the end of that rainbow.