The first half of Wednesday night’s game was as lousy as the weather outside the Watsco Center, as the University of Miami and Clemson teams struggled mightily to get going. But the Hurricanes made up for it with a thrilling ending, pulling out a 65-64 victory on a gutsy fadeaway bank shot by Zach Johnson just before the final buzzer.
“When it hit the backboard, I was like `Oh, no,’ said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “But it spun around the rim a couple of times, and I thought, `That’s got a chance’ and it went in.”
Miami had squandered a 10-point second-half lead, trailed by one with under a minute to go, and the Tigers appeared to have the game in hand when UM point guard Chris Lykes missed a jumper and Clemson’s Marcquise Reed grabbed the rebound with 50 seconds remaining.
But Reed missed a layup on the other end with 21 seconds left, UM’s Anthony Lawrence got the rebound, and gave the ball to Johnson, a graduate-student whose experience and poise paid off. He dribbled wildly around Tigers defenders; and just as the clock was about to expire, launched the game-winner.
When it fell through, Lykes leaped into the arms of center Ebuka Izundu and the rest of the Hurricanes hugged on the court and the bench. Junior guard DJ Vasiljevic led the Canes with a career-high 22 points, including five second-half threes, and Lykes had 21.
“I didn’t want to lose another tough one like the one at UNC,” Lykes said, referring to UM’s near-overtime upset of the eighth-ranked Tar Heels last Saturday.
It was a much-needed win for the Canes (11-13, 3-9 ACC), who entered the game with a boost of confidence after the close UNC loss and a home victory over Notre Dame last week.
“If we can take the No. 8 team to the wire, we can definitely take other teams in the conference,” said Vasiljevic. “That gave us energy and confidence.”
For much of the first half, it looked like neither team wanted to win.
Combined, they missed 22 of their first 26 shots, were 2-of-21 from beyond the arc, and had just three assists between them. The Hurricanes shot 25 percent before intermission – their worst shooting in a half this season.
But then the threes began falling, and falling, and falling for UM. During halftime, Larranaga had challenged his players to penetrate and kick it out for threes. They listened.
Lawrence opened the second half with a three, Lykes followed with another, and then Vasiljevic hit four threes in a row to open up a nine-point UM lead with 10 minutes to go.
“I told the guys we needed to make some threes, and sure enough, start of the second half we were just terrific, penetrated, kicked it out, made threes and that was the difference. That and the fantastic bank fadeaway jump shot by Zach Johnson.”
The Tigers kept clawing away.
Three times Clemson cut the UM lead to two, then one, and then, with 1:16 remaining, Marcquise Reed made a pair of free throws to take a 64-63 lead. The Tigers (15-9, 5-6 ACC) were a perfect 15-of-15 from the free throw line.