The University of Miami Hurricanes, desperate for a resume-building win over top-ranked Virginia late Tuesday night, were stifled 59-50 by the nation’s stingiest defense.
ESPN televised the game, and the nation got to see how the Cavaliers went from unranked to the top of the AP poll – by slowing the game down to a turtle’s pace and making it extremely difficult to score. The Cavs led 27-16 at halftime.
The funniest moment in the game came with 12 minutes remaining, when the Watsco Center public address announcer said into the microphone: “If the Canes score 70 points, fans can get six free wings at Carolina Ale House.” The crowd giggled. UM had 26 points at the time.
Five years ago, the Canes were ranked No. 25 in late-January, knocked off then-No. 1 Duke by 27 points at home and were catapulted into the national conversation. That 2013 UM team, led by Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, won the ACC Championship, wound up a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet 16.
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This Miami team had a golden opportunity on Tuesday, in front of a packed arena and national T.V. audience. The Hurricanes climbed as high as No. 6 early this season, but have been bouncing in and out of the top 25 in recent weeks, unable to win when it counts most or get a signature win. Tuesday was no exception.
The Cavs improved to 24-2 and 13-1 in the ACC. Miami dropped to 18-7 and 7-6 in the ACC.
“It will be interesting to see how we respond to two consecutive losses,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Competition is so difficult. Now, we’ve got to face the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 defense (on Saturday). There’s an expression that the freshmen hit the wall in February, and I see some of that in practice. Where the energy level is not quite as good as it was in September and October, the attention to detail, where everyone’s listening. There’s a little more fatigue now.”
Miami has five games left in the regular season: at home Saturday vs. Syracuse, at Notre Dame, home against Boston College, on the road at North Carolina and home against Virginia Tech.
Here are Five Takeaways from the game...
Yes, Virginia’s defense really is that good: The Hurricanes had gone cold for the final six minutes of the Boston College loss, so that was a concern heading into a game against the nation’s best defense. Virginia allows just 52.9 points per game, and were even stingier against the Hurricanes.
Miami shot 21 percent in the first half (6-of-28), and were 18-of-42 for the game – 6-of-21 from beyond the arc. The UM starters combined for nine first-half points. Anthony Lawrence missed all seven of his shots. Dewan Huell went scoreless, Jaquan Newton had four points. Lonnie Walker was 2-of-7.
Freshman point guard Chris Lykes led UM with 19 points on 50 percent shooting. Ebuka Izundu added eight and Sam Waardenburg hit a couple of threes and finished with six points.
Larrañaga said it was a combination of the Cavs’ defense and Miami’s inexperience that led to the offensive struggles.
“When you’re playing the number one team in the country, your players are going to be fired up, lots of energy, the complication of that is that it speeds them up, they’re hard to calm down and just make a simple play,” Larrañaga said. “The first half, that really showed. We had a wide-open three that was an air ball. We had a nice turnaround jumper in the lane that we normally make, missed badly. Plays that were right there for the taking. We missed those, not because of anything Virginia did. We missed them out of anxiousness and inexperience being in this position where you have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country, whose reputation precedes them as to how good they are defensively, so you tend to rush a little bit.”
Coach L is back: UM coach Jim Larranaga returned to the sideline after missing the Boston College game with a bad case of the flu, the first time in his 46-year career that he had missed a game. He traveled to Boston, but felt so ill and weak before warmups that he stayed in the locker room, hooked to an IV, and slept through the entire game.
“I am feeling much better,” Larrañaga said. “I was still terrible (Monday). I just wanted to sleep all day. But when I woke up (Tuesday), I guess all the meds finally kicked in. I felt good, lots of energy.”
Lykes continues to impress: Lykes, the smallest man on the court at (barely) 5-7, was the most productive Hurricane. He was 6-of-11 for 19 points in 27 minutes, and has made up for the scoring the team is missing in the absence of injured Bruce Brown – out six weeks after foot surgery. Lykes makes freshman mistakes at times, but his blurring speed gives the Canes an extra gear.
Waardenburg came through again: Who would have imagined that redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg would be the highest-scoring New Zealander in a game that included Virginia’s 6-10 center Jack Salt? Waardenburg had eight points and made both his three-point shots. He is 7-of-11 from beyond the arc this season.
Huell fading: Huell, who was on a roll at the beginning of the ACC season, was held scoreless Tuesday and had just two points at Boston College and three points at Virginia Tech. The Canes are a much better team when Huell is scoring, so they need to find a way to get him back into the offense.
“I’m not sure specifically what it is,” Larrañaga said. “He was getting a lot of compliments about his consistent he was playing, how efficient. He was leading the conference in field goal percentage in mid-January, but it seems like he started putting pressure on himself to do more. When you do that, you end up doing less. You do things outside your normal realm.”
Up next: The Canes are home Saturday at noon against Syracuse.