CORAL GABLES — The glass half-full view: this loss might make Miami better in March.
Perhaps the Hurricanes will have learned by tournament time how to play cohesively on offense, how to share the ball and create opportunities from movement. Maybe Miami will have figured out how to operate against a zone defense. Hopefully for UM, this will help steel their nerves when they encounter the next tough situation.
It’s hard to be overly encouraged about the Canes after Monday night, after a second-half collapse in an 83-75 loss to fifth-ranked Duke that further exposed the issues of 25th-ranked Miami (13-4, 2-3 ACC).
The Canes gave it away.
Duke (16-2, 4-2) is quite talented. The Blue Devils, with four projected first-round picks in its starting lineup, got a spectacular game from the player who isn’t getting that kind of love: freshman guard Gary Trent Jr., who scored 30 points and made 6-of-9 shots from beyond the arc.
Freshman big man Marvin Bagley put up 13 points and 12 rebounds. Big man Wendell Carter had 15 and 14. Freshman point guard Trevon Duval scored 17.
Facing all that talent, Miami still had the Watsco Center rocking midway through the second half. The Hurricanes led by as many as 13, going on a 16-0 run over 7:20.
And then, in the words of freshman guard Lonnie Walker (team-high 19 points), “the gas tank went to E.”
Duke responded with an 18-0 run of its own, holding Miami without a point for 4:52 and quickly building a lead that swelled to as many as 10 in the final minute.
“It’s what I said at the very beginning of the year and my opinion has not changed,” UM coach Jim Larranaga said. “I think we’re very young. I know Duke is even younger than us.”
And they’re much more ready for prime time.
Miami’s D good, not great. The Hurricanes entered with the nation’s second-ranked defense, and earned that cred against offenses that weren’t close to as good as Duke’s. The Blue Devils, sixth nationally in effective field goal percentage, were by far UM’s stiffest challenge.
Miami did several things well, especially before falling flat late. It forced turnovers and turned them into offense. UM had a season-high 13 steals, five by junior forward Anthony Lawrence. It forced 19 turnovers, one shy of its season high.
But after Duke committed its 19th, with 11:10 remaining in the game, it had no more. Give how Duke kept making shots (55 percent for the game), that spelled doom for the Canes. Boosted by Trent and Duval (2-for-2), the Blue Devils made 11-of-21 from deep (52.4). That continued a troubling trend, since Miami allowed 57 percent in its loss at Clemson.
Miami’s offense is a problem. The Hurricanes’ offense came mostly off those turnovers.
The Hurricanes struggled to attack, especially against Duke’s 2-3 zone. They shot 9-for-25 from 3-point land, and just 37 percent overall.
“The zone has been an issue. We haven’t found the right formula yet,” Larranaga said.
His team will see a lot more of it going forward, because the Hurricanes haven’t shown they can shoot well enough to beat it. UM’s starting guards, Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, were a combined 4-for-16 from the field. Three-point specialist DJ Vasiljevic – who has been a zone-buster in the past – had zero points on three missed shots and rode the bench in the second half. He is scoreless in his last two games.
It wasn’t just outside shots. Miami missed a whopping 14 layups and one dunk. Forward Dewan Huell, who has been Miami’s most consistent performer all year, had 18 points and 13 rebounds but missed several easy ones inside.
“We just have to be aggressive,” Walker said. “We have to know where our shooters are. We can’t just pass the ball east and west. We have to go downhill and attack.”
Easier said than done, apparently.
A little luster lost. The season doesn’t end on Jan. 15, but it might take a little while for the buzz to come back.
Duke is by far the most enticing opponent on UM’s home schedule. The Canes have home games remaining against Louisville, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech. None will carry the weight of a ranked matchup against Duke.
This was a Big Monday matchup, a battle of ranked teams shown coast-to-coast on ESPN. The nation saw a Miami team that might fall out of the polls.
UM’s first sellout of the year included reserved seats for 36 pro scouts, the power couple Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, Mark Richt and a slew of football recruits, and a healthy number of loud, proud Duke fans who cheered after the final buzzer sounded.
Huell wanted it. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was complimentary of Miami afterward, saying the Hurricanes “really good. Jim’s team is always good. They made us look bad, and we made is look bad. …. The last 11 minutes, we were good. Just, so good.”
He referred to one player, Huell, as “spectacular.”
Huell, the 6-foot-11 forward from Miami Norland High, for much of the night was the equal of Bagley, who is considered a national player of the year candidate. He was assertive, strong inside, and made good decisions (aside from one ill-advised 3-point attempt early).
But on one critical play late, he drove and was stuffed by Duke’s 6-10, 260-pound Carter, a strapping man who made the entire basket move when he hung on the rim after one dunk. Duke may be younger, but Monday they were older, wiser and more capable.