The Hurricanes earned a big road win on Saturday, creating some elbow room in the upper-middle tier of the ACC standings with an 84-75 decision over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
At the close of business Saturday, Miami (17-5, 6-4 ACC) was in a fourth-place tie North Carolina State, which trounced tailspinning Notre Dame on Saturday in Raleigh, and Louisville, which lost 80-76 at home to Florida State. The Hokies (16-7, 5-5) fall into an eighth-place tie with North Carolina.
UM hosts Wake Forest at 7 p.m. Wednesday and visits Boston College next Saturday before welcoming first-place (and current No. 2) Virginia to the Watsco Center on Tuesday, Feb. 13.
Five takeways from Miami-Virginia Tech:
A team’s NCAA Tournament resume can be divided into four parts, with the most important section wins over RPI 1-30 teams at home, RPI 1-75 teams on the road, and RPI 1-50 at neutral sites. Virginia Tech’s RPI, according to ESPN, was 56. Miami’s was 20. So it would have been a big resume piece for both teams. Score a Quadrant 1 win for the Hurricanes (the others, at this point: Middle Tennessee in Hawaii, Louisville at home, and at North Carolina State). And for a team that lost a 13-point second-half lead at home against Duke in mid-January, building and holding onto an 18-point lead against a tough Hokies team on the road, without Bruce Brown, was a statement. UM kept the ACC’s best 3-point shooting team (45 percent) to 8-of-22, and stunted any mini-runs by staying cool. Miami grabbed the lead three minutes in and never surrendered, even though it was close down the stretch.
Anthony Lawrence Jr. had a career day with 25 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The junior forward went 9-of-10 from the floor and hit all three attempts from downtown (one that saved Miami with the shot clock running down). With frontcourt mate Dewan Huell struggling (0-for-5 from the floor, 3 points) and Brown out, Lawrence’s effort was monumental. He also had a pair of home-run inbounds passes to Lonnie Walker, which earned UM a pair of late-and-important buckets. He had seven points in the first 8:30, helping Miami race to a 44-32 halftime lead. Just a quality all-around game for Lawrence, who often flies under the radar. He has been one of the Canes’ most important players for two years running, and his ability to play multiple positions well is key for Jim Larranaga as he tinkers with his post-Brown rotation.
Depth on display
The following fact from this game — Sam Waardenburg drew a charge with 42.6 left in a four-point game on the road, in a critical matchup for both teams’ NCAA tournament resumes — says a lot about where Miami is right now. Larranaga used Waardenburg, a redshirt freshman stretch four, for a career-high 21 minutes. He hit a 3, grabbed five boards and created a basket by saving a loose ball out of bounds. Huell, who rebounded well (four) but struggled to finish around the basket, was replaced by Waardenburg in UM’s closing lineup. The others: Ja’Quan Newton (12 points), the resurgent DJ Vasiljevic (14), Walker (14) and Lawrence. Rodney Miller, seeing his first action of the season, had three rebounds, two points and a block in four minutes. Encouraging.
Missing the point
Without arguably most reliable ballhandler in Brown, Newton and Chris Lykes may have been trying to do a little too much. Lykes, as usual, brought energy and excitement but was out of control at times (four turnovers). The ball stops too much with Newton, who he can get a tough basket when he wants to. Lykes must eliminate some of the risk from his game. He and Newton (three turnovers, four assists) combined for seven of UM’s nine assists — on 29 made baskets, a ratio that’s sure to rile their coach.
Walker the closer
Walker is clearly the most talented player UM has, aggressively creating offense and closing out chances on defense (two blocks, two steals). He’s one of the ACC’s top freshmen. He’s also developing his killer instinct. When it was 41-28 late in the first half and the Hokies were on the move, Walker drained a 3 and put his finger to his lips, shushing the student section. One one sequence midway through the second half, he guarded three different players and forced a turnover that led to a Lawrence 3 at the other end. With 3:21 left, he hit another dagger of a 3, not thinking about his drive that was blocked a few moments before. He ran off a screen and sank a jumper. He’s at risk of forcing the issue sometimes (5-of-15 FG), but he should have the ball in his hands at the end of every game.