The Miami Hurricanes blew a shot at an ACC regular season title by way of a loss at Virginia Tech a week back. Days later, a bid for a conference championship went down the drain, courtesy of a slow, sloppy start against the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday night in Washington DC.
The Canes are still looking at a two- or three-seed for the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday, but with March Madness fast-approaching, Miami is in need of a reset of sorts.
Head coach Jim Larranaga delivered a passionate pre-game speech in the bowels of the Verizon Center on Friday night before the Canes took on the Wahoos. Hammering his fist on his chest—talking through clenched teeth about the heart required to win games like these, as well as who plays smarter and together.
“You gotta play big and strong. This is gonna be physical. It’s a man’s game in the paint,” Larranaga shouted at his team as ESPN cameras caught all the action.
The heart was there most of the game and Miami went toe-to-toe in the toughness department against Virginia—but came up short in the “playing smart” department; especially in the game’s early moments.
After 5:13 in the first half, the Canes trailed 12-2 and due to the Cavaliers’ slow, deliberate and effective style of play, Miami never recovered—pulling to within three a few times in the second half, but never truly mounting that comeback bid.
Tonye Jekiri picked up where he left off from the night before—hit with a foul and a turnover on the Canes’ first possession, leading to a three-pointer from Malcolm Brogdon. Kamari Murphy immediately missed a jumper for the Canes, with London Perrantes pulling in the rebound and hitting his shot from beyond-the-arc.
Davon Reed missed a jumper. Anthony Gill made his. Sheldon McClellan turned it over. Perrantes missed a three-point attempt, but Isaiah Wilkins was credited with a rebound and tip-in for two. Murphy turned it over and missed a jumper after an Angel Rodriguez steal, Ivan Cruz Uceda was hit with a foul and Mike Tobey hit a jumper to push the lead to ten.
Ja’Quan Newton made a lay-up and Cruz Uceda hit back-to-back three-pointers, cutting the deficit to six—but eight minutes in it was clear that Virginia was setting the tempo and pace. The Canes would have to play the Cavs’ game to pull off the upset; or at least impose their will.
Miami trailed by ten with 7:28 remaining in the first, again at the 5:43 mark and also with 3:52 remaining. Newton knocked down a pair of free throws and hit a jumper, while a McClellan lay-up, a few rebounds and a dunk from Anthony Lawrence Jr. cut the lead to seven.
Tobey missed a three-point attempt with :28 remaining, Jekiri hauled in the rebound and Newton hit a jumper, making it a five-point game going into intermission. Based on the ugly start, it was damn near all Miami could ask for—but instead of building on the momentum, the Canes started the second half sloppy, as well.
A Rodriguez turnover. A missed jumper by McClellan. A Jekiri turnover. A missed three-point attempt by Lawrence Jr.. A Newton turnover.
Miami had an opportunity to come out swinging, and whiffed—failing to capitalize on Virginia shooters cooling off as the Cavaliers only scored six points in the first seven minutes of the second half.
The Canes attempted to play scrappy; Jekiri pulling down some rebounds and McClellan getting a steal—but it was overshadowed by a few turnovers, missed jumpers and fouls.
Miami pulled to within three after McClellan tipped in a shot with 12:26 remaining and it was a four-point game for almost ninety seconds as both teams went cold after a Murphy made one-of-two from the line.
Turnovers and missed shots plagued the Canes over the next several minutes; Virginia pushing the lead to ten again with 6:20 remaining. Missed free throws also hurt, with a handful of Miami players failing convert in key moments.
The Canes were reduced to fouling the Cavs in the games final minutes, hoping to make up some ground while saving precious game clock but never got within four points—Virginia’s Brogdon proving clutch from the charity stripe; 8-for-8 in the final two minutes.
Brogden—the ACC Player of the Year—finished with 24 points and was 10-of-11 from the line on the night.
Stats-wise Miami outshot Virginia 54.8- to 52.0-percent and was 4-of-8 beyond-the-arc while the Cavaliers were 4-of-11. The Canes even fared a little better from the free throw line, though rebounding was almost even as well; UVA getting 26 to UM’s 25. The Cavs also had six steals to the Canes’ five.
The stat that killed Miami; turnovers—coughing it up 16 times to Virginia’s 10. Those Hurricanes’ mistakes led to 19 points for the Cavaliers.
McClellan, who scored 15 points for the Canes on 5-of-11 shooting, referred to Miami’s mistakes as “uncharacteristic” of a veteran team.
“They kind of took us out of rhythm,” McClellan said of the Cavaliers.
Outside of McClellan, Miami’s starting lineup had a rough go-around. Rodriguez finished 3-of-5 shooting and collected nine points on the outing, while Murphy followed with seven on 3-of-6 shooting.
Cruz Uceda came off the bench with eight points early, but was a non-factor outside of that in 13 minutes of play, while Newton went for 32 minutes in his sixth-man role and score 19 for Miami on 5-of-7 shooting; including a 9-of-11 performance from the line.
At a point in the season where the competition is ratcheted-up a notch and the margin for error is razor-thin, the Hurricanes simply didn’t play like the veteran bunch they should be.
Forgivable against a Virginia Tech, but with a next-level squad like Virginia or North Carolina—the consolation prize for the Cavaliers as they’ll battle the Tar Heels for a conference title on Saturday night—it takes a more complete and consistent effort.
24-7 on the year, Miami will learn their post-season fate on Sunday afternoon—punching their ticket to The Big Dance and looking to go 6-0 en route to a national championship.
While road to the Final Four is rooted in intangibles by way of where the chips fall match-up-wise, the margin for error is zero for all teams—the most-consistent bunch always prevailing.
Larranaga’s speech about heart, smarts, physical play and it being a man’s game at this point of the season; the Canes failed to deliver against the Cavaliers—but Coach’s words remain the blueprint to success as March Madness officially gets underway next week.