The scene in the post-game locker room was not what the University of Miami Hurricanes had envisioned – heads hung low, voices at a whisper, and seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy peeling off their UM jerseys for the last time.
There will be no Sweet 16 for the Canes this year. No Jim Larranaga dances. The eighth-seeded Hurricanes played eight fantastic minutes, forced Michigan State’s heralded freshmen into turnovers, took an early 12-point lead, but then went cold and are heading home after a 78-58 first-round loss.
“The first eight minutes their youth showed, their freshmen turned the ball over, first play of the game a freshman mistake and foul and we took advantage of their turnovers,” said Murphy, who was held to one point and two rebounds. “Then they got comfortable, made a couple shots and we played catch-up from there. They outplayed us. It was a bad game for me, sad it was my last game of college career.”
The Spartans’ guards outplayed the Hurricanes’ (18 assists to eight), their big men dominated the backboards, and Miami wound up with a season-low 23 rebounds and one blocked shot.
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“They carved us up pretty good,” UM coach Jim Larranaga said of Michigan State’s freshmen. “You have to be at your best at this tournament, and we weren’t. We were good for 10, 12 minutes but we weren’t very good the rest of the game.”
Ja’Quan Newton led UM with 16 points, Davon Reed had 12, and Bruce Brown added 11.
Michigan State got big games from freshmen Nick Ward (19 points), Miles Bridges (18) and Joshua Langford (13) after they were rattled early on. They also combined for 18 rebounds. The Spartans outscored Miami 40-28 in the paint.
“We were really shaky early,” said Spartans coach Tom Izzo. “We turned the ball over a lot early. We responded like a bunch of freshmen, to be honest. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. Give Miami credit. They took it to us. But after that first seven, eight minutes, I thought we played some of the best basketball we’ve played not only this year, but in a couple of years.
“We moved the ball. We guarded. We took a couple of things away that are their strengths.”
The Hurricanes came out with boundless energy and dominated the first eight minutes, using zone defense to rattle the Spartans’ freshmen. Ward was called for a foul two seconds into the game – “He set not only a North American record, but a Michigan State record for fastest foul,” Izzo said.
UM jumped to a 10-0 lead which widened to 17-5. Michigan State was the team known for its breakneck speed in transition, but for a while, it was the Hurricanes stealing and disrupting and racing up and down the floor like track stars.
First Reed, then Brown, then Newton. Miami got five early steals and scored eight quick points off turnovers. Spartans freshman Bridges is the lottery pick-in-waiting, but Brown put on a show in the opening minutes with a couple of steals, a three-pointer and a one-handed dunk that launched the UM fans in attendance out of their seats.
Brown also had a slick pass underneath the basket to Ebuka Izundu, who threw down a dunk to give Miami a 19-8 lead. At that point, the Spartans had scored eight points and committed seven turnovers.
But the tides were about to change in a hurry. The Spartans found their form and started taking great care of the ball, while the Hurricanes went cold and came unglued.
Langford hit a three-point shot to close the gap to 19-13, Bridges made a jumper to get MSU within two, and followed it up with a layup to tie the game 21-21. The Spartans took their first lead of the game, 25-23, on an Alvin Ellis layup with four minutes to go before the half.
They never trailed again. Michigan State outscored Miami 30-8 to end the half, made nine of their last 11 shots of the half, and those early-game Hurricane heroics mattered no more.
“I feel terrible right now,” said Brown. “We probably took our foot off the gas way too early, and they made tough shots. I feel bad for the seniors, Murph and Reed. They worked so hard to get here and I’m just sad that I couldn’t help them get past what they got last year.”
Added Reed: “Once they got the momentum going, they never looked back. They outworked us. I’m sad to go out this way, but my goal was to get back to the tournament and see where we can go from there, and we did that, so I’m very proud of these guys.”
Larranaga said, in retrospect, he wished he had stayed in the zone longer rather than switching to man-to-man. “In the man-to-man we ended up playing like it was five games of one-on-one instead of team defense...If I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed with the zone in the first half.”
He said he switched because he felt the MSU players were starting to figure out the zone.
The typically-dependable Hurricane seniors Reed and Murphy shot a combined 1-for-7 for three points in the first half. Between them, they had zero rebounds before intermission, which was surprising considering they pride themselves on their defense. Reed came alive in the second half, but Murphy continued to struggle.
Despite the loss, Larranaga told his players he was proud of them, and that they exceeded expectations.
“First few weeks of practice, to think we’d win 20 games and get to NCAA Tournament having beaten Duke, North Carolina and Virginia on the road, that would be surprisingly good for such a young team so short on the bench,” he said.
The Spartans (20-14) advanced to the Sunday second-round game against Kansas (29-4), which played like a top seed in the earlier game, clobbering UC-Davis 100-62 in front of a packed BOK Center crowd that included actor Rob Lowe, who is filming a documentary nearby. Lowe flew in on the same flight as the UC-Davis chancellor, who invited him to the game.