Five minutes had gone by in the game Saturday, and Clemson freshman Jordan Roper had hit his first five field goal attempts and hit two free throws to account for all of his team’s points, giving the Tigers a 12-11 lead over Miami at the first media timeout.
That’s when Shane Larkin, who as a sophomore didn’t assume his usual starting role at point guard on Miami’s Senior Day, let his coach know he was ready to get into the fray.
“I’m ready to go. Let me guard Roper” was the message he delivered to Jim Larranaga.
“I’m very coachable,” Larranaga said later with a wry smile. “I put Shane in and he guarded Roper.”
Oh, did he!
Roper got off only four more shots and didn’t score another point the rest of the afternoon.
And the Hurricanes pulled away in the second half to a 62-49 victory that gave them their first undisputed conference title of any kind for the program. Their 15-3 league record was a game up on Duke in the final regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference standings after the Blue Devils pounded North Carolina later that night to finish 14-4 in ACC play.
In addition to his defensive play on Roper, who had scored a career-high 19 points the first time these two teams met just a couple of weeks earlier, Larkin contributed on offense as well.
After missing his first seven shots, Larkin hit consecutive 3-pointers to spark a surge that gave the Hurricanes a double-digit cushion late in the second half.
He finished the game with 11 points -- second on the team to Kenny Kadji’s 23 -- and had two steals to go with three assists.
It is that kind of play by Larkin at both ends of the court that has been crucial to Miami’s success this season. With their 24-6 record, the Hurricanes have tied a program record for wins in a season already, and they still have appearances in the ACC and NCAA tournaments to come.
When Larranaga was asked after the game if he considered Larkin the ACC Player of the Year, he first noted that there are several great candidates and whoever wins the honor will be deserving of it.
But, he added, quoting ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, to the victor belongs the spoils. On the long journey that is the regular season, Larkin has been the guy.
“Shane Larkin has led us from the start of the season right until today,” the coach said. “I don’t think there has been a more valuable player on any team.”
Larranaga said research he and his staff have done using the website statsheet.com shows that when Larkin is on the court, the Hurricanes check out at a plus-274 points rating.
“That’s like 10 in every game,” Larranaga said.
And when he is not on the court?
“We’re a minus-54,” Larranaga said. “That’s pretty valuable.”
Of course, Larkin averages over 36 minutes a game, so he’s rarely out of the game.
“That’s true,” Larranaga said.
That’s not going to change now with the Hurricanes heading into the ACC tourney as the event’s No. 1 seed.