ATLANTA -- Looking back at the first half against Georgia Tech on Thursday night, Shane Larkin could see why people will question if Miami deserves to be a part of the NCAA tournament.
Miami's freshman guard was front and center for the Hurricanes' putrid first 20 minutes of action at the ACC tournament. He and his teammates shot 6-of-25 (.240) from the field, turned the ball over seven times, had one assist and scored just 19 points. If not for Georgia Tech's equally grotesque first-half performance, the Canes might be doing a lot of self-loathing right about now.
But there are always two sides of a game, and Larkin prefers to focus on the second half -- the half in which Miami trounced the Yellow Jackets in their own backyard. It was a half where the Canes shot 41 percent from the field and suffocated Georgia Tech with its smothering defense.
Miami's utilization of the full-court press stymied the Yellow Jackets, forcing them to make mistake after mistake, leading to 12 of Georgia Tech's 20 turnovers. Larkin, who was benched to start the second half for sloppy, lackadaisical play, awoke to score 10 of his team-high 12 points in the second frame. Guard Rion Brown came off the bench to drain back-to-back 3s that helped spark a crippling 18-0 run early in the second.
The Canes were smarter, tougher and faster and played their way into the field of 68 with the 54-36 victory, according to Larkin.
"I know you have to pass the eye test and if people were watching that, we looked like a terrible team in the first half," Larkin said. "If they watch the whole game, they'll see that we're a very talented team (with) a lot of people who can score the ball, great bigs, and we deserve a chance to play in the tournament."
The Canes entered Thursday's game with an RPI of 51, a strength of schedule of 50 and a 3-10 record against the RPI top 100. Those numbers aren't pretty, and the only things keeping this team alive are victories over Duke and Florida State. That means Miami will likely need to make some sort of run in the ACC tournament.
That run started with its blowout of Georgia Tech, a team counted out of the tournament months ago, and could continue with a win over Florida State on Friday. Miami is 1-1 against FSU, and would get back in the tournament committee's good graces with another win over the 17th-ranked Seminoles.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Miami as one of the last four out, so work needs to be done, but senior guard Malcolm Grant said his team can't worry about brackets and possibilities. Winning will cure everything for Miami.
"[Friday's] a big game for us, but we don't want to go in there thinking that if we win we're definitely in the tournament because we don't want to put added pressure on ourselves," Grant said.
To Larkin, Miami's body of work, which includes 19 wins, isn't the only thing that should send the Canes dancing. He thinks the second-half effort Thursday shows how dangerous and exciting this team could be in the tournament.
Given the chance, Larkin believes Miami would be quite the date for the Big Dance.
"We're a very talented team, can do a lot of things, and we showed that in the second half," he said.