University of Miami

UM squanders 15-point lead, goes cold in second half, loses 77-73 to Yale

UM Hurricanes ‘s forward Deng Gak (22) battles for a rebound  during the Hoophall Miami Invitational basketball game against Yale Bulldogs on Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami
UM Hurricanes ‘s forward Deng Gak (22) battles for a rebound during the Hoophall Miami Invitational basketball game against Yale Bulldogs on Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

College basketball took over AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday with a quadruple-header capped by a University of Miami 77-73 loss to Yale in a night game that went down to the wire.

The Hurricanes were desperate for a win after back-to-back losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers. Instead, they squandered a 15-point second-half lead, missed 11 of their final 12 shots and dropped their third game in a row.

As UM coaches and players trudged off the court, Yale players celebrated at midcourt and sang the Sheck Wes song, “Mo Bamba”, in the hallway while they headed to their locker room.

“First half we scored 49 points and shot 53 percent, but we were just not in sync offensively in the second half, and I wish I knew why,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “If you go 1-for-12 from three (in the second half), you can’t win. We scored 49 first half, and 24, half of that, in the second. You have to give Yale credit. They played really good in both halves.”

Yale presented problems for Miami all night, and closed the gap every time UM pulled ahead. The Canes had no solution for Yale junior guard Miye Oni, who finished with a game-high 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

“We couldn’t guard him,” Larranaga said of Oni. “He went 10-for-15 from the field, 8-for-10 from the foul line, 29 points. We’ve actually had a very hard time in every game guarding the other team’s best player. We just haven’t had a guy step up and stop a guy like that.”

Oni gave credit to God and to his teammates for his big night. “It was a team effort,” he said. “I didn’t even know we were down by 15. We were into it, they started running the same sets over and over, we toughened up and made stops in the end.”

One of the happiest Yale players was 6-10 sophomore forward Paul Atkinson, a graduate of Westminster Academy in West Palm Beach. He was never recruited by Miami, and responded with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five rebounds.

“Playing at home was big for me, with my friends and family here,” he said. “I never talked to the Hurricanes (during the recruiting process).”

The Hurricanes (5-3) opened up what appeared to be a comfortable 15-point second half lead on a three-point play by Zach Johnson, but then they went cold. Yale (3-2) took advantage, went on a 14-1 run, started controlling the glass, and closed the gap to two points, 57-55, with 13:33 remaining in the game. Miami called a timeout, and Oni roared as the pumped-up Bulldogs headed to their bench.

Miami missed 11 of its final 12 shots, went on a three-minute scoring drought and everything unraveled in the closing minutes. With the game tied 73-73, Zach Johnson missed a jumper, had an untimely charging call that negated a Chris Lykes three-pointer, and then Anthony Lawrence fouled Oni and he made both free throws to give Yale the lead for good.

The game began with a moment of silence in memory of President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday. Bush is a Yale alum and was a big fan of Bulldogs athletics.

Deng Gak, a 6-10 redshirt freshman, got his first start of the season for UM alongside Chris Lykes, Lawrence, Ebuka Izundu and Johnson. Miami coaches decided to go tall early, and with Dewan Hernandez still unavailable, Gak got the nod. He held his own defensively and scored five points in 14 first-half minutes.

Miami led 49-39 at halftime. For the second game in a row, Lykes turned the ball over five times by halftime. Izundu led UM with 19 points and nine rebounds. DJ Vasiljevic had 17, Lykes finished with 12, and Johnson 11.

Earlier in the day, St. John’s and No. 20 Texas Tech rallied from two-digit second-half deficits to win their games and remain undefeated at 7-0.

Junior guard Shamorie Ponds scored 37 points – including 21 in the final 14 minutes -- to lead the Red Storm to the 76-73 comeback victory over Georgia Tech. He beat the halftime buzzer with a prayer-of-a-shot from midcourt, and that sparked the Storm. This is the best start in 24 years for St. John’s, which is coached by alum and five-time NBA All-Star Chris Mullen.

“Shamorie Ponds is an NBA guy, he hit some NBA-type shots,” said Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner, whose team dropped to 4-3. “He’s really, really good.”

Texas Tech, which entered the AP Top 25 this week, was in danger of losing, down by 13 points to Memphis in the second half. But the Red Raiders outscored the Tigers 50-30 in the second half and won 78-67. North Carolina State beat Vanderbilt 80-65 in the other game. NC State raised its record to 7-1, Vanderbilt dropped to 5-2.

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