With the Barclays Center crowd going nuts while cheering for the opposition and Miami’s game-long lead over Syracuse having evaporated, the Hurricanes needed a tide-turner.
That’s when the kid from Down Under made himself right at home in Brooklyn.
Freshman D.J. Vasiljevic gave Miami a huge lift with two three-pointers in a span of 1:10, and the ninth-seeded Hurricanes held off eighth-seeded Syracuse 62-57 in the second round of the ACC tournament.
The Hurricanes avenged their loss to Syracuse earlier this season, dealt a serious blow to the Orange’s NCAA Tournament hopes and advanced to play top-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals at noon Thursday.
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Miami (21-10) upset North Carolina easily in the teams’ only meeting this season, 77-62, in Coral Gables.
“That was a great college game,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Our guys did a great job making key threes, getting key stops.”
The biggest threes and stops came midway through the second half. Syracuse (18-14), which most experts felt had to win this game to get into the NCAA Tournament, trailed for most of the first half and didn’t seem to be playing with desperation.
But trailing 38-31, the Orange put together a 10-2 run punctuated by a thunderous dunk from Tyus Battle to go up 41-40 with 12:23 left. The pro-Syracuse crowd — “I looked at it as Syracuse’s home game,” Larrañaga admitted — was roaring and UM called timeout.
But just when it looked like the young Canes might fold, Vasiljevic came through. A three-pointer from the right elbow put Miami back in front, and a minute later the Melbourne native drained a three from nearly the same spot to give UM a 46-41 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
Vasiljevic made four three-pointers and finished with 13 points.
“We’ve been in these types of pushes all season,” said Miami’s Davon Reed, who had 14 points. “Early in the season, lack of experience led to us not being able to pull out some of those closer games. As the season progressed, we’ve been able to pull out some close games, and we showed that type of resilience [Wednesday]. D.J. hit a couple of big ones.”
Trailing 57-52 with 40 seconds left, Syracuse’s John Gillon drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key to cut the deficit to 57-55.
But UM, which led for nearly the entire game, responded with a Ja’Quan Newton driving layup that put the Canes up four with 16 seconds left.
After a Syracuse dunk by Andrew Lydon, Reed was fouled and went to the line with a chance to ice the game, and after swishing both free throws the Canes were onto the quarterfinals.
After getting blown out by the Orange on Jan. 4 in Syracuse, losing 70-55, the Hurricanes’ game plan was to do a much better job rebounding.
Game plan accomplished. UM allowed Syracuse only four offensive rebounds and zero second-chance points. While Syracuse sharpshooter Andrew White scored a game-high 22 points, the Orange’s other standout, Gillon, went only 3 of 9 from the floor for eight points.
“The emphasis of the game was rebounding,” said UM’s Kamari Murphy, who led the Canes with 16 points. “We put it all together [Wednesday], so it was a great win for us.”
Miami took care of the ball, committing only eight turnovers (it had 15 in the loss at Syracuse) while having four players score in double figures.
With an NCAA berth even more solidified, Miami now turns to the challenge of beating UNC again.
“We have a list of seven things we have to do against North Carolina, both defensively and offensively,” Larrañaga said. “We know we’re the underdog. But we like that.”