- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jim Larranaga knows as well as anyone how important “juice” is for a team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It propelled his George Mason squad to the Final Four seven years ago. Larranaga helped cut down the nets here at Verizon Center that afternoon in late March, punctuating one of the greatest Cinderella runs ever in this event.

On the flip side, Larranaga’s Miami team didn’t have it Thursday night. Not even close. It’s why the Hurricanes were barely competitive in a 71-61 drubbing by Marquette in the Sweet 16.

“Energy, enthusiasm and execution,” Larranaga said. “If you have the energy, you are going to have guys who are excited about playing, and you’ve got a much better chance of executing. We didn’t have the energy. We just didn’t.”

Larranaga listed the reasons his team was adrift from the opening tip: Second-team All-American point guard Shane Larkin was ill to the point of vomiting Wednesday night into Thursday. Center Reggie Johnson had knee surgery Tuesday and didn’t make the trip. Guard Durand Scott missed most of Tuesday’s practice after an elbow to the mouth loosened some of his teeth.

“This is fact, it’s not fiction, it’s not an excuse,” Larranaga said. “We didn’t prepare for this game.”

It amounted to a lack of juice, Larranaga’s catch-all term for sharpness and vigor, the fuel to survive and advance in this single elimination format.

“We didn’t have the juice that you need to play great basketball,” he said. “It started right from the very beginning, you could see it. It never really improved.”

He credited Marquette coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles for a dominant performance. Perhaps they will soon experience the jubilation Larranaga and his George Mason players did in this building in 2006.

The third-seeded Golden Eagles will play fourth-seeded Syracuse for a Final Four berth Saturday.

Larranaga’s second year at Miami ended about as sourly as possible. The Hurricanes’ 16 first-half points were a season low. They made only 5 of 26 first-half attempts. Marquette contested some with its man-to-man defense, but Miami did manage to create some open looks. Usually the result was the same.

“They did a great job in guarding the ball screen,” Larkin said. “They were pretty much trapping me and trying to get the ball out of my hands, it was frustrating not being able to attack it.”

Larranaga threw up his hands in frustration in the second half as Miami squandered another possession. He calmly watched most of the final minutes seated on the bench with his hands folded.

Thursday’s loss aside, Larranaga has Miami’s program rising. Those who followed George Mason during his 14 years there saw it coming.

Miami advanced to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in its history. The Hurricanes’ 29 wins were an all-time high. They were once ranked No. 2 in the country and won the ACC regular season and tournament titles.

In other words, the program has juice.

Sustaining it over the long term is Larranaga’s task, which won’t be easy. Five of the Miami’s top six scorers are seniors, and Larkin, a sophomore, could leave for the NBA.

“Now those guys graduate and we have to replenish the talent and that’s going to take some time,” Larranaga said. “It doesn’t happen over night but in the ACC you are able to recruit talented kids and hopefully we will be able to replace these guys with incoming freshmen and maybe a transfer or two.”

All the Hurricanes accomplished this season was little consolation Thursday night. Larranaga and a school official sat in the coaches’ office muttering back and forth. Around the corner, players sat in silence. Senior guard Trey McKinney Jones scrolled through his smart phone. Half of a chicken parmesan sub sat unwrapped on a table. Players perused the postgame spread and shuffled out.

Larranaga eventually walked back out to the court. As Syracuse and Indiana played their regional semifinal, he waved to some familiar faces in the crowd. Fans gave him a standing ovation as he walked out. Some in Syracuse orange even leaned over the railing to give him a high-five.

He still has juice in these parts, even if his team didn’t.

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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