Bounced from ACC Tournament, Miami Hurricanes vow to put growing pains behind them

Lonnie Walker IV reacts during the second half of Miami’s 82-65 loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

[5 takeaways from Miami-UNC]

[Taking a walk with Jim Larranaga]

NEW YORK — Lonnie Walker did more than admit his gaffe. He owned it.

With 0.4 seconds left in the first half of Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal, Walker jostled North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson while defending his 60-foot heave. Walker knew he shouldn’t have given officials anything to consider.

“Freshman mistake,” he said. “I gave him a little love tap and they called it. That’s my fault. Three-fourths of the court, I shouldn’t even reach. Anxious. It was a pretty low-IQ thing to do.”

After Johnson made three at the line to put Carolina ahead 32-31, Miami entered the break wondering how it coughed up an early 14-point lead. By the end, they were pondering how, despite a double bye, they were going home.

Walker’s foul was one of numerous blunders the jittery Hurricanes committed during their one-night stay in Brooklyn. Wherever the NCAA Tournament selection committee sends when it reveals its bracket Sunday, UM (22-9) will have to find a way to calm its nerves.

“We just didn’t make smart decisions,” coach Jim Larranaga said, calling his team “very, very anxious” in the 82-65 loss, Miami’s most lopsided of the year.

“We were playing well, and all of a sudden we started rushing,” he siad. “We got caught up. We had a couple of fast breaks where we hit under the rim because the defense was swiping at the ball and we were not in control.”

Walker, the 6-foot-5 wing, showed glimpses of his high-level athleticism but shot 4-of-14 and missed all five 3-pointers he tried. Fellow newcomer Chris Lykes was 3-of-11 and missed four 3s. Combine their shooting stats with those of redshirt freshman forward Sam Waardenburg (1-of-2), sophomore forward Dewan Huell (2-of-8) and sophomore guard DJ Vasiljevic (2-of-6) and UM’s first- and second-year rotation players went 12-of-41 from the floor. Only Vasiljevic (2-of-5) hit an outside shot.

A pair of veterans had better nights. Senior guard Ja’Quan Newton, his confidence high and attitude changed from a midseason slump, had a team-high 17 points (7-of-16) and tied Huell with seven boards. Junior forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. — who said he was OK after playing through a tweaked ankle — had 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Both he and Newton went 2-of-2 from downtown.

But the Hurricanes, who were tied with the Heels at 50 with 10:42 to go, fell apart down the stretch. Despite the finish, they are a safe bet to be picked for the tournament for the third year in a row. They will not be near the top of the bracket.

Beginning this year, the committee will select at-large teams using a quadrant system. The most important of four quadrants is Quadrant 1: a team’s perforrmance in home games against teams in the RPI top 30, neutral-site games against top-50 teams and road games vs. top-75 teams. In those games, Miami, 26th in RPI, is 5-6, with its most important win coming at UNC (No. 5) on Feb. 27. They are 3-2 against Quadrant 2 opponents, or home games against 31-75, neutral-site games vs. 51-100 and road games vs. 76-135.

That, plus an 11-8 mark in a tough ACC, makes for a middle-of-the-road resume. As of Friday afternoon, CBS Sports pegged the Hurricanes as a No. 6 seed. ESPN, The Athletic and TeamRankings put them on the 7-line.

“I think there’s only three teams in the ACC — no, four teams in the ACC with winning road records, and that’s Virginia, Duke, Carolina and Miami,” Larranaga said.  “So, I think we’ve got as good a chance as anybody, even though we’re young and we do lack experience; but this will be our third trip [in a row] to the NCAA Tournament, and that makes me and my coaching staff feel good about our chances no matter who we match up with.”

Miami might get a boost if standout sophomore guard Bruce Brown returns from a stress fracture in his left foot. Brown, who has missed the last 11 games, will be reevaluated Monday. Regardless of his availability, UM is confident it can last longer in the NCAA Tournament than it did at the ACCs.

“We can beat anybody,” Newton said. “We can play with anybody. Whoever we play, it’s going to be a good one. It’s going to be a battle.”

Added Lawrence: “We’re a young team, but we’re also good. No team’s going to be able to sleep on us.”

Walker, who feels Miami has “everything it takes to win it,” said he was “humbled” by Thursday’s loss, calling it a “dagger in my heart.” He vowed it would make the Canes hungrier.

“It’ll definitely add some oil to our engine,” he said.

In a locker room at the Barclays Center, he compared the degree of heartbreak he felt to what he felt in 2016, when his Reading (Pa.) High squad lost in the state semifinals.

That’s evidence of his youth, of course. He had no Sweet 16 experiences or collegiate shining moments to which he could refer. That prep loss did, however, fuel Walker’s engine.

He led Reading to a state title the following year.

“As wise man once told me,” Walker said, “the good thing is you’ve always got another game.”