Offensively the game between No. 3 Miami and Clemson was not one that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will request a recording of anytime soon. But all that matters is the result, and with the 45-43 victory the Hurricanes move to 12-0 in ACC play (21-3 overall).
Kenny Kadji hit a three-pointer with 36 seconds remaining gave Miami the lead for good, and they survived after Clemson missed two attempts at the tie in the final seconds. Kadji was the lone Hurricane to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points, and as a team Miami shot just 34.6% from the field.
The question to be asked in the aftermath of this close call: is there anything that future opponents can take and apply to their own game plans?
The one obvious answer, which has hung over Miami throughout ACC play but hasn’t been carried out with much success before Sunday night: neutralize point guard Shane Larkin.
Larkin finished the game with seven points (2-of-8 FG), three assists and three turnovers with Clemson’s ball-screen defense playing a role in his struggles. Brad Brownell’s big men didn’t switch but they hedged just enough to prevent Larkin from turning the corner, giving guards Rod Hall and Jordan Roper the time needed to get back in position to defend him.
When Larkin’s able to turn the corner in those scenarios shots open up for Trey McKinney-Jones and Durand Scott, who combined to score nine points on 3-of-13 shooting. With those three and a big man in Kadji who has range out to the NBA three-point line Miami can be lethal in ball-screen situations. Clemson limited Miami’s opportunities and thus had a chance to pull off the upset, leading by four with less than two minutes remaining.
But due to their own offensive struggles (30.4% shooting) the Tigers were unable to gain the separation needed, leaving the door open for Miami to pull off the victory. And as veteran teams tend to do the Hurricanes took advantage of the opportunity.
Clemson’s defensive performance could provide the remaining six opponents on Miami’s regular season schedule with a blueprint on how to beat the Hurricanes, but it isn’t as if the need to slow down Larkin was a secret before Sunday (Boston College did so and lost by one in Chestnut Hill, for example).
Knowing what needs to be done and actually carrying out the game plan are two entirely different things. And even if an opponent successfully slows down Larkin, Miami has shown itself capable of winning anyway.