DALLAS — Tear off the final page of the script, and it would have been a wonderful tale for Miami.
It would have started like this: guard Ja’Quan Newton, the lone senior on a talented but youthful squad, overcame his troubles to hit the biggest shot of his college career: a 16-foot fallaway jumper with 39 seconds left, which broke a 60-all tie and sent Miami to the second round.
After that, however, there was much to be written.
And the central theme was Hurricane heartbreak.
A turnover and a missed free throw by Lonnie Walker, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Donte Ingram and Miami (22-10) was done, knocked out of the South regional of the NCAA Tournament. The final score: 64-62.
Loyola (29-5), the 11th seed and champion of the Missouri Valley Conference, handed the sixth-seeded Hurricanes their second first-round loss in as many seasons. Last year, Michigan State trounced Miami in Tulsa. That game was over early. This one had punches and counterpunches, ebbs and flows, and plenty of mistakes on either side.
Miami made the ones most critical.
Walker, a freshman guard, NBA draft prospect and most heralded recruit to sign with UM in recent memory, fouled Loyola’s Marques Townes with 26 seconds left. Townes made 1-of-2, but with the Ramblers pressing and Walker dribbling the ball up the left side, guard Lucas Williamson slapped the ball out of Walker’s hands, off his leg and out of bounds, giving possession to Loyola with 23.5 on the clock.
With 9.3 left, Walker’s foul shot hit the front of the rim, the back, then bounced on the edge four times before falling off.
“There’s no true excuse or explanation or anything to say,” he said. “I didn’t knock down the final shot. Game over.”
Freshman Sam Waardenburg, whose offensive rebound helped put Walker at the line, couldn’t get this one. Loyola’s Ben Richardson hauled it in and hit Townes, who raced up the court. He saw Ingram trailing the play, spotting up from 28 feet.
Splash. Celebration. The Ramblers, playing their first tournament game since 1985, piled on Ingram. They hugged Sister Jean Schmidt, their lovable 98-year-old team chaplain. Miami players stood in stunned silence. Ten minutes later, as a crowd of 15,802 had mostly cleared, one mid-20s fan in maroon-and-gold screamed in raspy joy, “Can you believe this?” His call echoed around the building.
College basketball fans around the country responded in the affirmative. Loyola was a trendy pick to pull an upset: a Cinderella candidate that played stifling defense, shot a high percentage and won games of significance (beating Florida on the road) and in volume (17 of 18 coming in, 10 in a row). For Miami, the answer to that fan was a quiet, painful, “No.”
“I think this is the most hurt I’ve ever been,” said freshman guard Chris Lykes, who had 10 points and six rebounds and sparked an 11-4 run early in the second half. Miami went up seven points with 15:49 left, in control after a sloppy start. Loyola led by seven six minutes in, but by halftime UM tied the game at 32 on another buzzer-beater: DJ Vasiljevic’s offensive rebound and floater.
Miami had a five-point lead with 2:46 to go, but a pair of turnovers by Dewan Huell (11 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) and a 3-pointer by MVC player of the year Clayton Custer helped tie it at 60. The Hurricanes, who average 11 turnovers, had 16.
Newton’s shot would have erased those mistakes. But there was more to be written.
“Well, it’s pretty simple,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “You know why we call it March Madness.”
The Hurricanes shot 51 percent and made 4-of-9 from distance. They outrebounded Loyola and held a 13-3 edge in second-chance points. They helped hold the Ramblers to 8-of-21 from the perimeter. Ingram hit one that will last forever.
Waardenburg wasn’t close enough to block it. Lykes thought he would get a steal before the assist was made. Newton was looking for his man, hoping to get a stop and make free throws to seal a second-round spot.
Huell, waiting for a rebound that never came, saw “the ball going through the net and the buzzer going off.”
In a somber locker room, Huell looked dazed.
“Final Four,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. That’s what I thought we were capable of. Not reaching that, this [expletive] just hurts. Everybody had us losing this game and we lost the game. Damn, they were right. That’s a bad feeling.”