The lack of center and team-leader Reggie Johnson, laid up in Coral Gables healing from a knee procedure? A commuting nightmare and forty-five minute, two-mile bus rude from the hotel to the arena? Shane Larkin being under the weather and visibly ‘off’ as a result?
Nah. This was simply a case of a team running into a buzzsaw, as well as higher stakes and the Hurricanes not rising to the occasion.
Miami was never in this one, which on some level almost makes the loss easier to swallow. Some nights it’s simply not your night and that was apparent from the get-go in this one.
A second-round match-up against Illinois and a nail-biter to the finish? Games like that can take years off one’s life, but witnessing this one, the juices never got flowing for the orange and green.
No runs, no true threat and unfortunately, the belief that it wasn’t UM’s night as shot after shot continued to fall short and rebounds found their way into opposing hands in almost magnetic fashion.
Marquette, ousted twice from the Sweet Sixteen, wasn’t going to be denied on Thursday night and took it to Miami immediately, hitting shots, playing stifling defense, confusing the Canes and seizing momentum from the start.
A 4-4 game after a Kenny Kadji dunk and jump shot, Marquette went on a tear and a 10-0 run over an almost seven-minute span.
During that drought, the Miami offense lacked identity and couldn’t execute. Missed shots from Larkin, Trey McKinney-Jones and Rion Brown. Turnovers. Fouls uncharacteristic of a team this mature (Larkin picking up two in under twenty seconds.)
Miami got to within seven after a Larkin three-pointer with 8:49 remaining, but Marquette’s Trent Lockett quickly dunked an offensive rebound on a Vander Blue miss. Kadji missed a three attempt on the ensuing possession, Lockett pulled another rebound, Derrick Wilson found the ball in his hands, kicked it to Jamil Wilson, who launched a three and put the Golden Eagles back up by twelve.
That forty-second span was a microcosm of a forty-minute game. A missed Marquette shot, a rebound and make after another look, an errant shot on Miami’s end, poor rebounding, another Golden Eagles’ possession, good ball movement and another shot going down.
Even when Miami momentarily found life, in this case, a designed alley-oop and easy dunk for Brown, pulling the Canes to within ten, Marquette immediately answered, everything seemingly falling with easy while Miami fought every possession and oft came up empty-handed.
McKinney-Jones missed a jumper with half a minute remaining and with five ticks on the clock, Blue drained his. Another four-point swing and a thirteen-point Marquette lead instead of nine.
The Canes had sixteen at the half, with McKinney-Jones and Durand Scott, both scoreless from the field – Scott, hitting two free throws, but going 0-for-6, including 0-for-3 on one possession.
Down ten with just over four remaining, Scott missed a jumper, got his own rebound, shot again, missed, hauled it in and missed a third time before Marquette regained control.
A desperate possession for Miami, it proved another mini in-game moment that was in line with the type of evening it was in Washington D.C.
The second half wasn’t much better and while some shots eventually started falling for the Hurricanes, nothing could be done to stop Marquette, who scored 71 points on sixty overall possessions – 40 of those points coming in the paint and almost eight points above the Golden Eagles average of 32.1 paint points per game this season.
Some more numbers; Marquette shot 27-of-50 (.540) in field goals to Miami’s 22-of-63 (.349), which was the biggest difference maker and while the Golden Eagles only attempted six three-point attempts, dropping in half, the Hurricanes were an uncharacteristic 8-of-26 (.308) with few good looks and no lucky breaks. (The Canes were 1-of-12 from beyond the arc in the first half.)
Marquette also scored 14-of-20 transition points against Miami’s full-court press, which the Canes didn’t implement until five minutes into the second half, more proof that nothing was working for Jim Larranaga, his staff or his kids.
“You ever have days where you’re just out of sync or things just don’t run along smoothly?” Larranaga said.
“Almost like our trip over here. Our hotel is a mile and a half, it took us 45 minutes to get here. We had to go on nine different streets, weaving our way in and out of traffic and everything. And that’s the way it seemed on the court. We were trying to find our way and never could. Never could get in rhythm offensively, and defensively. I don’t think we communicated like we have been doing all season long.”
Miami hit some late three-pointers, courtesy of McKinney-Jones, Scott and Larkin, all in the final two minutes, outscoring the Golden Eagles, 14-2, which made for a closer final score, but truth be told the Hurricanes spent most of the second half down two dozen points and never threatened.
A McKinney-Jones three with 13:27 on the clock got it back to the thirteen-point deficit it was at the half, but Marquette pushed the lead to twenty-one in under two minutes.
Second-seed Marquette will advance to the program’s first Elite Eight, taking on four-seed Syracuse on Saturday, who knocked out top-seeded Indiana hours after Miami’s season ended.
For the Canes a long plane ride back to South Florida and what will be an off-season full of what-ifs, on the heels of what was the greatest year in Miami basketball history.
Weeks back, on the heels of an ACC regular season title and tourney championship, it was easy to state that the second-seeded Canes needed to ‘at least’ advance to the Final Four for this season to be deemed a success.
Once ‘March Madness’ truly got underway and the insanity, parity, lucky bounces and quirkiness of the tournament became a reality, a quick realization that any win or step forward should be applauded.
In a one-and-done event such as this, seeds mean nothing, there are no guarantees and it becomes all about timing, match-ups, streaking when you need to, as survival.
Before Miami enthusiasts gets lost in the pain of this season coming to such an abrupt halt, take solace in the fact that it’s simply part of this crazy game and has happened to other incredible teams as this field of sixty-four has been trimmed to twelve and by day’s end will be eight, with four others experiencing what the Canes did last night.
Go back to the opening round last Thursday and Friday. Pittsburgh. Missouri. Oklahoma State. Wisconsin. Kansas State. New Mexico. UNLV. North Carolina State. UCLA. Georgetown.
Some quality programs and a good mix of three, four and five seeds, as well as a two that many had reaching the Final Four – seasons ended, just like that, in what was expected to be somewhat of a ‘gimmie’ opener.
Over the weekend, top-seeded Gonzaga went down. So did fourth-seeded Saint Louis, fifth-seed VCU and seven-seed San Diego State, the second victim of tournament-darling, fifteen-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
Last night, besides two-seed Miami, it was top-ranked Indiana, six-seed Arizona and thirteen-seed La Salle, their Cinderella run over after wins over fourth-ranked Kansas State and twelfth-seeded Ole Miss.
One-seed Kansas or four-seed Michigan will go home today. As will two-seed Duke or three-seed Michigan State, one-seed Louisville or twelve-seed Oregon and three-seed Florida or underdog fifteen-seed Florida Gulf Coast.
By night’s end, there will be eight. By late Sunday, down to four.
Dreams are getting dashed left and right and Thursday night was Miami’s turn – but the Canes are far from alone.
While there’s little immediate solace in that sentiment, it’s something that must be embraced as this dream season is shelved, categorized and revered.
Larranaga’s Hurricanes did the unthinkable this season, exceeding expectations, doing right by The U, making the city proud and reminding us what it’s like to feel like winners again.
Beating Michigan State early. Responding from a rough Hawai’i tournament with a fourteen-game win-streak, including ass-kickings of perennial ACC powers like Duke and North Carolina (twice!), as well as two wins over hated rival Florida State.
From there, another little win-streak that spanned six games, on the heels of a 1-3 skid down the stretch.
A huge, regular-season clinching win over Clemson.
A hard-fought, ACC tourney opening round victory over a gritty Boston College team.
A battle with North Carolina State followed by a tourney-clinching win over North Carolina, back-to-back days in the Tar Heel State, in front of rabid fan bases and home cooking for both.
Miami disposed of Pacific in round one of the NCAA Tournament, fought like hell to take down a quality Illinois program and went to Washington D.C. with dreams of an Elite Eight and Final Four, but falling a few games short.
Six wins for a national championship and the Hurricanes got two before ousted in game three, the stakes raised every match-up over a three-week span.
Sixty-three teams go home feeling like Miami does right now. One team takes it all. Welcome to the harsh reality of this game.
The dream of winning it all came to an end, but a dream season nonetheless. ACC regular season champions. ACC tournament champions. A slew of awards earned by players and a head coach and a 29-7 season that ended in the Sweet Sixteen against a tourney-veteran, including a 21-4 run in 2013 after that 8-3 start. Incredible.
Heads high, Hurricane Nation – players, coaches and fans alike. 2012-2013 was one for the ages on the hardwood.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.