CORAL GABLES — Miami doesn’t have Sheldon McClellan or Angel Rodriguez this year. It doesn’t have a team deep or experienced enough, the experts say, to make a second consecutive run to the Sweet 16.
But during a fun run in the second half of Thursday’s game against No. 20 Notre Dame, these Hurricanes looked a little like those Hurricanes.
In a game it lost 67-62, Miami (11-4, 1-2 ACC) came from 11 points down in the second half to hold a fleeting lead. However, the inexperienced Hurricanes fumbled away their grip on said lead.
UM was up 61-57 with 2:53 left. After that, pick a play that hurt the most: Ja’Quan Newton missing a tying free throw, turnovers by Newton and Davon Reed, a missed 3 by D.J. Vasiljevic, or Anthony Lawrence bungling an entry pass from Bruce Brown with 7 seconds left. All good candidates.
“The game comes down to little things,” coach Jim Larranaga said, referring to missed free throws (Miami was 8-of-14) and turnovers (Miami 13, Notre Dame 6). It also came down to a zone defense, to which the Irish switched in the second half and stifled Miami.
“I’m disappointed we lost. I’m not disappointed with how hard we played,” Larranaga said. “We just didn’t finish. Some of the credit does to an experienced team like Notre Dame that switched to a zone. … We needed to just be better at finding the open man.”
That’s another ongoing issue. Miami had seven assists on 24 made baskets, and just one on 13 at halftime. “We don’t find each other easily,” Larranaga said, noting that most of the Hurricanes’ buckets were driving layups. They also had issues with little things like putbacks. Miami had 19 offensive rebounds, but 11 second-chance points.
Notre Dame (15-2, 4-0) went on a run to start the second half, going up by 11 points and taking over a game in which neither team shot well. Each finished around 38 percent shooting. Part of the issue for Notre Dame was Miami’s defense, which frustrated forward Bonzie Colson (8 points, 2-of-12 shooting) more than any other team the Irish have faced, according to coach Mike Brey. The Hurricanes blocked 12 shots, the most they’ve ever rejected in an ACC game.
Miami’s comeback started with 9:31 left, when Reed (21 points, six rebounds) blocked a shot and threw an alley-oop dunk to Kamari Murphy (seven points, 12 rebounds) at the other end. That gave a packed Watsco Center crowd a much-needed dose of life.
The Murphy dunk preceded a layup by Newton (14 points) and a Reed-to-Vasiljevic assisted 3-pointer. Miami was down 50-46, and chipped away until Lawrence sank a 3 at the other end that tied the game at 52, and blew the roof off the place.
Irish guard Matt Farrell sank a 3 in Murphy’s face and Miami missed, but Lawrence punched the ball out for a steal. He dished to Reed for an and-1 at the other end. Tie game, 55-all.
The teams were tied at 57 and 61, when Reed lost his dribble and V.J. Beachem converted on the other end. Newton tried to drive the lane and throw down a tomahawk slam, but missed. He sank one of two foul shots.
Needing a stop down 63-62, Steve Vasturia nearly fumbled away the ball at the 3-point line but worked his way underneath for two with 7.1 seconds left.
At midcourt, Brown shot an entry pass to Lawrence, but it clanked off his hands.
“That is a fabulous win for us,” Brey said. “We feel when we’re in those situations we’re going to figure it out. It certainly is a psychological advantage for us now. … We’re not affected when a guy blocks one off the backboard and the crowd goes crazy.”
The Hurricanes could use an edge like that. They’ll have to earn it.
Noteworthy: Larranaga on Michael Gilmore, whom he dismissed Thursday: “Disappointing any time you lose a player. … We have certain standards and he didn’t live up to that.”