It was the first true challenge for Miami this season and unfortunately the Hurricanes failed.
That’s not to take away from a 13-1 start, cracking the Top 10, winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off or quality victories against Utah, Butler, Florida and Syracuse.
It’s simply pointing out that to achieve greatness this spring and to go deep into the post-season—the Hurricanes need to bring a complete effort. Especially in a brutal, top-heavy conference with several more games of this caliber on the horizon.
Riding a two-game road losing streak, falling at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in back-to-back games, Virginia was ripe for the taking and a 26-game home-win streak was waiting to be snapped.
Instead, Miami picked a big-game opportunity to make those little-yet-defining mistakes that will cost you against a quality opponent. Some ill-advised shots, going cold beyond the arc, giving up too many second-chance points or missing crucial free throws—each played a role in the loss.
The Canes knew a wounded Cavaliers bunch would be ready to play—but Miami still couldn’t put together the full game necessary to escape Charlottesville with the win.
“I told the team before the game that this is a game of who could execute better, especially down the stretch,” said Canes coach Jim Larrañaga, “and unfortunately for us, it was [Virginia]. They got to the foul line way too often in the second half — we did not get to the foul line, and when we did, we didn’t make the free throws.
“[The Cavaliers] deserve the credit, they made their free throws and they got the offensive rebounds and outrebounded us by eight and that was the difference in the game.”
After a slow first half where Miami was 8-for-21 shooting, was outscored 18-8 in the paint and 9-2 in second-chance opportunities the Canes responded with a 7-0 burst in the second half. Both teams continued going at it, where the lead went back-and-forth 11 times over the next six minutes until Virginia surged ahead for good.
An untimely travel. A missed, wide-open three-pointer from Ivan Cruz Uceda, setting up a dagger from Cavaliers guard London Perrantes, who had 13 points on the night. Miami also lost the battle of the board, 35-27—uncharacteristic for Larrañaga-led squad.
Whatever the case on Tuesday night, something in the Canes’ chemistry was off. Angel Rodriguez led Miami with 17 points, but was erratic, only connecting of 6-of-13 shots from the field. Sheldon McClellan was held in check with only 13 points, while Davon Reed trailed with 11. Combined, the trio was 4-of-15 from three-point range.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s one game and a respectable eight-point loss to a quality conference opponent. Miami will get a chance at revenge when Virginia visits The BUC late February. Between now and then; home games against Duke and North Carolina, as well as road trips to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
Continue taking care of business and the loss to the Cavaliers will be a blip on the radar—but to right the ship, the Canes need to take something away from losing a winnable game. For some reason, when ranked Virginia seems to have Miami’s number—the Canes now 0-4 when the Cavaliers are a Top 25 team.
For a Miami program that has aspirations of winning the ACC and making a deep postseason run, there are going to be slew of Virginia-like games down the stretch.
Chapel Hill will be hostile. So will South Bend in early March. The conference tourney will be loaded with quality teams and March Madness itself leaves little margin for error or down nights—something the Canes learned a few years back when getting upset by Marquette in the Sweet 16.
Larrañaga has had his share of teaching moments for this team over the years and the loss at Virginia provides another. Two full halves. Less mistakes. More focus. Whatever.
Miami won’t have to wait long to get the taste of losing out of their mouths; trekking up to Clemson on Saturday and Boston College on Wednesday, before welcoming Wake Forest south next weekend.
Nothing wrong with 13-2 at this point of the season, but 14-1 and breaking a home-game win-streak against a conference foe was within reach, yet not grasped. Time to go out and make Clemson pay this weekend, Canes—for that football beatdown, as well.