By Russell Hanson
Coral Gables- The Miami Hurricanes (11-13, 3-9 ACC) came into tonight’s game against Clemson (15-9, 5-6 ACC) looking to grab a big win at home. Miami, fresh off of an overtime heart-breaker in Chapel Hill against North Carolina were eager to get back in the win column. It took a Zach Johnson game-winner with .1 seconds to get the Canes back in the winning grove with a 65-64 victory.
The game started slowly as both teams opened the game shooting a combined 3-14 before DJ Vasiljevic finally broke the scoring drought with an impressive drive to the rim to put the Canes up 4-2. At the 15-minute mark, Clemson had still failed to break their scoring drought extending their missed shot streak to seven before Marcquise Reed tied the game at four.
The cold streak continued for both teams as they were a combined 4-26 to begin the game. Sam Waardenburg gave the Hurricanes their biggest lead of the game when his two free throws put the Canes up 8-4 with 11:55 remaining in the first half. Following a media timeout, Clemson was able to find two points before Miami got them back and one to hold an 11-8 lead.
With the clock ticking under eight minutes and the Hurricanes leading by one, Chris Lykes used a pick by Izundu to get off a three pushing the lead to four. Clemson responded to make it 14-12 before a fantastic pocket pass from Lykes set Izundu up for an open look which resulted in a shooting foul on Clemson. The Senior from Charlotte was able to hit both.
Clemson was able to earn their first trip to the free throw line with 4:40 left in the first half. The Tigers hit both to tie the game at 16 before getting a stop and taking the lead on the ensuing possession. Lykes immediately responded with a big shot of his own to tie the game again at 18. Then, with the Tigers back up by two again, Johnson converted an extremely tough layup to earn an and-1 opportunity. Johnson however missed the free throw leaving the game tied.
The awful first half finally ended with the Tigers leading by two, 26-24. “ I told the guys we needed to make some threes. Penetrate and get in the lane but kick it out because we’re a good three-point shooting team.” Larranaga continued by saying, “And sure enough in the first ten minutes [of the second half] we were terrific.”
The Canes returned to the floor hot, going on a 10-0 run sparked by Lykes to put Miami up 40-33 with just over 15 minutes left in the game. (I would like to add here that Chris Lykes is one of the most exciting players in college basketball despite the Hurricanes being in the midst of a disappointing season.) DJ Vasiljevic kept the party going hitting a huge three from the right corner to push the run to 12-0.
Reed was finally able to stop the bleeding for the Tigers as he converted an and-1 opportunity as the clock ticked under 14 minutes. Clemson began to feel the pressure as they began to run a full court press attempting to deny Lykes the basketball.
The Hurricanes found themselves up 47-42, when Vasiljevic connected on his fourth three of the night to stretch the lead to eight. Clemson responded with a three of their own, but DJ immediately matched it to send the Watsco Center into an uproar. “That was the difference in the game.” Larranaga said afterwards.
Clemson clawed their way back on the heels of a 2:30 minutes Hurricanes scoring drought and pulled within two, 54-52, with less than eight minutes left on the clock. Lykes extended the lead back to four with two free throws before Sam Waardenburg drew an offensive foul to get Miami the ball back, but they couldn’t capitalize.
As the clock moved under two minutes, the Hurricanes held a one-point lead as both teams went cold. Reed was able to get to the free throw line with 1:16 left and hit both to put the Tigers in front 64-63. Miami immediately called a timeout to regroup.
Out of the timeout, Lykes appeared to be fouled on a three-point attempt but did not get the call. Clemson missed the ensuing shot and with 0.4 second remaining, Johnson hit a fade away jumper to give the Canes a 65-64 victory. When asked in the postgame press conference if he considered calling a timeout on the final possession, Larranaga said “I’m reluctant to call a timeout in those situations because it gives the defense a chance to set up for something we aren’t prepared for…and I have a lot of confidence in my guys that they’re gonna get a good shot.”
After the game, Larranaga said he was “So proud of the guys. They just keep battling. When you start out with 12 eligible scholarship athletes and now you have seven, that’s half your team that’s disappeared. These guys have stepped up, they hang tough, they’ve got great team spirit, great attitude and even after a loss like the one in Carolina, we come back confident and ready to play.”
Vasiljevic led all scorers with 22 points followed closely by Lykes who added 21. No other Hurricanes player reached double figures. Clemson’s Reed led the Tigers with 19 points while Mitchell and Thomas added 16 and 15 points, respectively. Larranaga was very complimentary of both of his guys in the post-game press conference. “You see the kind of game that Lykes and Vasiljevic had”, said Laranaga, “That was very difficult on Clemson because both of those guys were red hot.”
With the victory, the Hurricanes improved to 11-13, (3-9 ACC). They will return to action Sunday, February 17th against the Boston College Eagles in Chesnut Hill.