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.
Theres 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 2 1/2 minutes to help No. 9 Miami pull away and beat North Carolina 87-77 in Sundays ACC tournament final.
Trey McKinney Jones added a career-high 20 points for the top-seeded Hurricanes (27-6), including the go-ahead three-pointer with 6:27 left that started Miamis 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 werent 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, Wasnt that the funnest thing youve ever done? We wanted to go to Greensboro and do it again.
Miami ended up getting the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournaments East Region. The Hurricanes will face 15th-seeded Pacific on Friday in their tournament opener in Austin, Texas.
Larkin was chosen the tournaments 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 UNCs 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 programs first run to the semifinals.
As the confetti fell from the rafters after the final horn, Scott leapt into Gambles 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 hadnt 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 1, these guys have embraced our approach, Larranaga said. That doesnt 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 shot 51 percent and made 12 of 22 three-pointers – six from McKinney Jones, four from Larkin. Miami used its size advantage against North Carolinas 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 didnt put this one away until the final minutes.