Sometime this season, the law of averages will come into play for the University of Miami men’s basketball team.
With 3.5 seconds remaining and trailing by two, UM senior forward Raphael Akpejiori grabbed an offensive rebound. Instead of trying to tip it in, Akpejiori came down with the ball and N.C. State junior guard Ralston Turner fouled him.
Akpejiori made the first free throw, but the second rimmed out as the Hurricanes lost to the Wolfpack, 56-55, on Saturday afternoon at BankUnited Center.
“There’s very little that separates two teams in a very close game,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We’ve done enough good things to put ourselves in a position to win. The other team has just done one or two things better. They’ve had one player step up to make some incredible baskets or free throws at the end.”
As they’ve done all season, the Hurricanes (11-12, 2-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) battled in a close contest, chipping away at a deficit. N.C. State (15-8, 5-5) led by as many as nine points with 14:02 left.
UM finally tied it at 51 with 1:37 to play on senior guard Rion Brown’s free throw. It marked the first tie since the game was six minutes old.
Sophomore forward T.J. Warren, who scored a game-high 27 points (19 in the second half), responded with a pair of free throws. On the ensuing possession, UM freshman guard Manu Lecomte missed one of two foul shots. Warren answered by driving to the hoop, drawing a foul and connecting on another two free throws to extend the lead to 55-52.
“Free throws are very important, as we saw [Saturday],” said Lecomte, who entered the game a 77-percent shooter from the line. “We know we can make these free throws, but it’s practice. You have to practice them.”
On the next possession, Lecomte tracked down a long offensive rebound. His attempt to keep the ball inbounds sailed to halfcourt and was nearly intercepted by a pair of N.C. State players, one who deflected it off a teammate’s shoe and straight to Lecomte. He dribbled in for an easy layup with 10 seconds to go.
After a foul, Turner nailed one of two free throws with 9.7 seconds left to make it 56-54, setting up Lecomte’s missed jumper and Akpejiori’s free-throw attempts. Miami went 16 for 23 from the line.
Three players scored in double figures for UM: Brown (20), Lecomte (13) and guard Garrius Adams (10). But their teammates contributed just 12 points combined.
The Canes have now lost five of their past six. The last time the program was below .500 this late in the season was 2006-07 when the team finished 12-20. UM is 0-4 in ACC games decided by five points or less (3-7 overall).
• Six former UM basketball players and current Sports Hall of Fame members were recognized for their athletic achievements: Octavia Blue, Abe Friedman, Wayne Becker, Eric Brown, Julie Cohen and Tim James. Members of Miami’s Founders, who rebuilt the program after a 14-year hiatus (1971-1985), were also brought onto the court during a media timeout.