By Russell Hanson
The Miami Hurricanes moved to 5-0 on the young season with a dramatic victory over Fresno State, 78-76. Zach Johnson was the hero scoring 24 points including a put back slam with 0.6 seconds remaining to give Miami the win. The win puts Miami into the championship game of the Wooden Classic.
Coming off a game versus La Salle in which Miami only allowed 18 first half points, they were tested early and often by the Fresno State Bulldogs. To begin the game, Fresno State ran a full court press in an attempt to force Chris Lykes into turnovers. The Bulldogs’ strategy created a wide open and exciting game. Early on, the Miami offense was having some trouble dealing with the intense pressure. However, Zach Johnson, Chris Lykes, and even Sam Waardenburg attacked the rim relentlessly which created open opportunities. The Hurricanes got into a bit of foul trouble early on. Izundu and Waardenburg had to sit early in the game which opened the door for Gak and Anthony Mack to play significant early minutes.
Miami grinded out the first half despite Fresno State shooting 60% from the field. The teams entered the locker room at halftime with the Bulldogs leading 41-37. In the second half, the excitement never slowed down. Both teams went extended stretched where it felt like they couldn’t miss. The Hurricanes opened the half on a 10-0 run which was immediately followed by a 9-0 run by the Bulldogs. Shortly after this sequence, DJ Vasiljevic and Huggins (Fresno St) traded four consecutive threes followed by another three by New Williams for Fresno State. This tied the score at 61 with 9:08 remaining. This segment of the game felt more like a Rucker Park pickup game than a preseason tournament.
With 5:04 remaining, the Canes were in a four-point hole, down 70-66 before Johnson and Lykes took over. Johnson drove to the rim and was fouled earning two free throws. He hit both to pull the Hurricanes within two. Chris Lykes then hit a three, grabbed a defensive rebound at the other end and immediately drove in for an easy layup. This put Miami up three with under four minutes remaining.
After a couple of free throws by Johnson and Lykes, Miami found themselves leading by three with only 18 seconds left. What is the one thing you can’t do in this situation? Foul a three-point shooter. What did Miami do in this situation? They fouled a three-point shooter. Deshon Taylor sank all three free throws to bring his point total to 25 on the night. With the game tied at 76 and 0:13 seconds left on the clock, the Hurricanes inbounded the ball. Everyone’s favorite spark plug, Chris Lykes, brought the ball up the court before losing a defender with a cross over and pulling up for three. The ball bounced off the rim and Zach Johnson came flying in for the put back to score his most important points of the night with 0.2 seconds remaining. Fresno State was unable to do anything with such little time and the Hurricanes took home the victory 78-76.
With his performance today, Johnson became the fourth Hurricane on the season to score 20+ points in a game. Chris Lykes followed close behind with 17. DJ Vasiljevic joined the double-digit scoring party by adding 12 of his own on 4-7 shooting from three-point range. Ebuka Izundu also contributed 10 points going a perfect 3-3 from the field to go along with four free throws.
Fresno State’s Deshon Taylor (25) and Braxton Huggins (28) combined to score 70% of the Bulldog’s 76 points. Fresno State out-rebounded Miami 43 to 29 while also shooting a higher FG percentage (47%) and blocking five shots.
The biggest difference in the game was turnovers and free throws as Miami forced 20 turnovers while only committing 11. Miami also got to the line 28 times which was 10 more than the Bulldogs while converting 75% versus 72% for Fresno State. The Hurricane bench, led by Johnson, also outscored the Bulldog’s bench 26-2.
With this victory, Miami advances to the championship game of the Wooden Classic.
Their opponent will be the winner of the game between Seton Hall and Hawaii and will be played at 10:30pm on Sunday.
PHOTO: Zach Johnson/espn