AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Miami coach Jim Larranaga has so much confidence in Shane Larkin that he pretty much let his only non-senior starter run the show in the NCAA tournament.
With the sophomore point guard calling most of the offensive plays and making up for a tough shooting game by matching his career high with nine assists, the Hurricanes returned to the tourney with a 78-49 victory over Pacific in the East Regional on Friday.
“Since the very first day I saw Shane Larkin play, I thought he was great. And he’s only gotten better at making decisions, at developing his skills and developing his role as a leader,” said Larranaga, the second-year Miami coach. “Today, I may have called one or two offensive plays. I said to him, `Run your team.'”
Durand Scott had 21 points with five 3-pointers for the Hurricanes (28-6), four of those long-range shots on assists by Larkin, who was only 2-of-8 shooting but scored 10 points.
Miami took control with a 14-0 run midway through the first half, a spurt that Larkin got started with two free throws, an alley-oop pass and a three-point play.
“My teammates did a great job of being in the right position, and that’s the chemistry that we have,” said Larkin, the ACC player of the year.
The No. 2 seed Hurricanes, who already have four more wins than ever before, played their first NCAA tournament game in five years. They finished with their most-lopsided victory ever in the tourney.
Pacific (22-13), the California team that played its last game for retiring longtime coach Bob Thomason, was no match for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular season and tournament champions.
“Great team, great pieces. They played tremendous,” said Thomason, who was 437-321 in 25 seasons coaching his alma mater. “I’ll be rooting for them the rest of the time, so maybe they can win a national championship. If I had to go out in coaching, you want to go out to a great team, but also to a great coach and a class coach, and Jim is that.”
Thomason had said last year that this season would be his last. The Tigers gave Thomason a 20-point win over Big West Conference regular-season champion Long Beach State in his final home game, then won the league tournament for his fifth NCAA appearance.
Larranaga took mid-major George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. That makes him the only ACC coach not at Duke or North Carolina to take a program that far — and he might be able to do it again, with his own ACC team.
The Hurricanes advanced to play Illinois, which recovered to beat Colorado 57-49 after blowing a 16-point halftime lead later Friday. That game Sunday will be for a spot in the round of 16, where Miami has only been once without going further.
When the Hurricanes were already in complete control in the second half, there were consecutive possessions when Larkin made passes and was already holding up three fingers before Scott’s 3-pointers had cleared the rim. The second with 11:47 left made it 59-29.
Scott was Miami’s point guard before Larkin arrived and knows what it’s like to be in that spot.
“I know all he wants to do to run the floor. And I know he’s going to put the ball where it needs to be,” Scott said. “He did a great job of finding me and I definitely would knock the shot down for him, because I’m pretty sure if I missed it, he would have been upset with me.”
Reggie Johnson had seven points and 10 rebounds for Miami.
Travis Fulton had 18 points on six 3s for the Tigers, while Khalil Kelley had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Kelley’s three-point play with 14:35 left in the first half got the Tigers within 8-7, but they went more than 7 minutes before scoring again.
Larkin started the Miami run with two free throws, then had an alley-oop pass to Tonye Jekiri before scoring on a driving layup off the glass while being fouled and making another free throw.
“I tried to go out there and make something happen. And luckily my teammates set the right screens for me to get to the basket, and they were in the right spot and spotted up for me to pass for them to shoot,” Larkin said. “We just did a great job at that moment in time in creating a bigger lead.”
Miami was up 22-7 before Kelley’s dunk with 7:19 left finally ended the run.
The Hurricanes led by as much as 40-16 when Erik Swoope made two free throws with 6 seconds to go in the half. He was fouled while going up in the air in traffic trying to catch another alley-oop pass from Larkin.
Markus Duran swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Pacific, but the game was already well out of reach after the Tigers shot only 29 percent (7 of 24).
“Obviously, there’s going to be nerves in a big game like this,” Kelley said. “I feel like we had some open looks, but shots weren’t falling. Obviously with their size, it’s tough in there. We haven’t played a team that big.”