Miami Hurricanes basketball: Five takeaways from UM’s 78-75 OT win over Louisville Cardinals

Lonnie Walker returned to the starting lineup against Louisville, and put on a show. (Getty Images)

[Canes out of top 25 entering Louisville game]

CORAL GABLES — In the most thrilling finish at the Watsco Center this season, Miami emerged with its second ACC win in a row — and a victory over a team near the top of the league standings.

The Hurricanes (15-4, 4-3 ACC), who fell from sixth to unranked in the Associated Press poll after going 4-4 in their previous eight games, beat Louisville 78-75 in overtime. The hero: freshman Lonnie Walker, who scored 25 points and a few key defensive plays.

The Cardinals (15-5, 5-2) couldn’t take full advantage of Miami’s inconsistent shooting (36.9 percent from the floor, 6-of-22 from outside). Scoring continues to be a concern for the Canes, but they’re a quality defensive bunch. Louisville missed all five of its overtime shots.

Five takeaways:

Walker’s back

Miami’s super freshman played 30 minutes last Sunday at North Carolina State, but was a question mark up until tip-off because of a stiff back. He returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, but was removed from the game under three minutes in. He rode the stationary bike for a moment, the returned to the game five minutes later. How was he feeling?

“Just had a loosen it up a little,” he said.

Get loose, he did.

In a career-high 40 minutes, Walker led all scorers with 25 — his most in an ACC game, and one point shy of his career high — and was dominant at times on both ends of the floor.

His biggest offensive play came in the final minute, when he drew center Anas Mahmoud at the top of the key. The former blue-chip recruit blew past the 7-footer, went left and finished with his right. That tied the score at 69, and sent the game to overtime when Louisville’s Deng Adel’s wild shot at the buzzer hit the backboard and rim, but not the net.

What did he see on that drive?

“A bucket,” he said.

As part of a 13-2 stretch that put Miami up 21-13 early, he had two steals, dished out an assist on the break, threw another sweet no-look pass in traffic that led to a layup, hit a leaning runner, swished a somewhat ill-advised 3 with a hand in his face, and sank a pair of foul shots. He had 13 in the opening frame.

Louisville built a 7-point lead early in the second half, but Walker’s drive to the hole with 15:34 left finished a 6-0 UM run that trimmed it to 44-43. He tied it at 51 with a 3. With 4:07 left, he swished another 3 with a hand in his face, putting Miami up 63-61.

Walker didn’t have much of an offseason because of July knee surgery. He used most of the nonconference slate to recover. As January nears its end, he’s coming on.

Canes’ defense holds 

Larranaga didn’t see his team playing physical or rebounding. He thought the Hurricanes were making it easy for Louisville. He “barked at them,” he said, in a timeout midway through the second half.

They were listening, as evidenced by some critical defensive plays.

With Miami down by 2 and less than a minute remaining, Walker and Bruce Brown combined to steal a Miami possession, tying up Louisville’s Ryan McMahon for a jump ball with 26.7 left.

In overtime, Ja’Quan Newton produced a key block on Quentin Snider.  It led to a Dewan Huell flush at the other end that Miami up 73-71. Newton had 12 points and struggled to finish (2-for-10 from the floor), but grabbed seven rebounds and went 8-for-10 at the line.

Larranaga praised Newton for “taking over with his defensive effort,” and making Brown and Walker play harder.

Walker’s block at the three-point line on McMahon — after Newton fouled the Cards guard on the prior possession, letting him make 2-of-3 at the line — saved a potential tying 3 in the final seconds.

“I know what my capabilities are,” Walker said.  “I’m just starting to get a groove on.”

Brown finds a way

Miami wasn’t getting much offensively from Brown, but he still contributed.

The sophomore guard, much like the Canes’ offense as a whole, runs hot and cold. After going 7-of-8 from the floor for 19 points at N.C. State, the Boston native reverted to his previous form, when he went 4-for-20 for 13 points against Clemson and Duke (both losses).

Before a fast-break dunk that tied the game at 71 with 1:07 left in overtime, Brown missed eight of the nine shots he took, all four from downtown. He went 4-of-8 from the line, but missed a pair in OT.

He finished with eight points. He pulled down 11 rebounds, was highly active defensively and generally made smart decisions with the ball (two assists), but did little to convince the 14 NBA scouts in attendance that he is a pro-level shooter.

The Canes also continue to get nothing from DJ Vasiljevic, who submitted a zero-point night for the third time in four games.

Big trouble averted

Louisville’s trio of big men were hard for UM to handle, and nearly were the difference. Senior Mahmoud (7-0, 230), junior Ray Spalding (6-10, 225) and freshman Malik Williams (6-11, 225) combined for 31 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks.

A pretty turnaround hook by Spalding (nine points, 13 rebounds, five) put Louisville up 68-65 in the final minute. In overtime, Mahmoud (15 points, five rebounds, four blocks) had a pair of blocks on the same possession. Louisville had three blocks in the extra frame.

“They’re not just seven-footers, they’re strong,” Walker said. “They don’t look strong, but they are.”

Miami wound up with a 49-38 edge in rebounds (18-12 on the offensive glass).

Huell, who has bulked up to 6-11 and about 220 pounds as a sophomore, more than held his own (16 points, 11 rebounds). As usual, he quickly slid into position for alley-oops and got the crowd fired up when he finished. His tip-dunk in overtime provided crucial points: it gave UM a 73-71 lead, and he added a pair of free throws to push UM’s edge to four with 16 seconds left.

Miami could use more depth and domination inside, but it handled a stout challenge Wednesday.

The Waarden is here

Backup center Ebuka Izundu was quiet (two points, one rebound in 10 minutes), and Larranaga found time for redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg, whose previous career high for minutes in an ACC game was 1.

Waardenburg played in just two of UM’s 10 previous games, for a total of four minutes.  But Larranaga liked what he saw in practices — the New Zealander was mostly turnover-free last week, which gave the coach confidence he could handle the ball in games — and gave him a shot against a big Louisville team.

He didn’t score in 13 minutes, but was a factor inside. The 6-10, 217-pound Waardenburg snatched seven rebounds and blocked a shot. He made his presence felt midway through the second half, registering an offensive rebound, the aforementioned block and an assist on a Walker 3. Early in the half, he flashed some vision with a nice dish inside to Huell, who couldn’t finish.

It’s unclear how he’ll be used going forward, but Wednesday was a step forward for the youngster, who missed the first three games of the year with a back injury.