DALLAS — In this season under the microscope, Lonnie Walker made clutch plays. He sank Boston College with 2.3 seconds left. He hit an acrobatic layup to force overtime against Louisville.
The heralded freshman from Reading, Pa., one of the highest-profile recruits Miami has ever landed, had a good year. At times, he was great.
Not so in the final minute of sixth-seeded UM’s first-round 64-62 loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago. His untimely turnover, his foul while defending and his missed free throw that bounced and rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity — Walker had the ball in his hands, and the Hurricanes couldn’t hang on.
“It definitely hurts. Definitely hurts. The ball went their way. There’s no true excuse or explanation or anything to say. I didn’t knock down the final shot. Game over,” he said.
“I definitely take responsibility. That’s what comes with being a good player. I had a turnover and a foul, and I missed the free throw. Definitely a learning experience.”
Fellow freshman Chris Lykes, the Hurricanes’ point guard of the future with Ja’Quan Newton graduating, wouldn’t let Walker’s head drop.
“The kid hit a big shot,” he said of Donte Ingram’s winner. “We didn’t play that well, but down the stretch we got some stops. We can’t blame it on Lonnie’s free throw. There were so many things throughout the game we could have done better. To blame it on Lonnie’s free throw is stupid.”
Had Walker made it, however, Miami would have had more options. It would have given him another. Had he made that, the score would have been 64-61. Jim Larranaga could have called timeout, made any necessary substitutions and set up his defense to foul, putting Loyola at the free-throw line rather than giving the Ramblers a chance to hit a tying 3.
Walker’s teammates weren’t thinking that way. They were sore over the plays they made, or didn’t make. Sophomore forward Dewan Huell, who had two costly turnovers in the final 2:10, also blamed himself for allowing 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Cameron Krutwig to back him down and score on his first two touches.
“That gave them momentum,” Huell said.
Coach Jim Larranaga didn’t think Walker’s closing stretch was the difference.
“I thought the biggest statistic that separated us is they had 19 assists,” he said. “We only had 11. They found the open man a little bit more than we did, despite the fact that we shot 51 percent from the field, better than their 47, and 44 percent from three better than their 38. And neither one of us shot well from the foul line. We shot 61 percent. They shot 44 percent.
“When I look at those numbers, I think to myself, we probably would have won the game, but we didn’t. They made the last big play.”
After the loss, Walker, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound NBA draft prospect projected by some websites as a lottery pick, wanted to escape for a few days. “I have to relax and gather myself,” he said. “I’ll just get away from the game, focus on me and my friends, get back to myself.”
He wasn’t sure when he would decide his future. “I need to speak to God, speak to my family and friends and my coaches,” he said. “We’ll make the ultimate decision after that.”
His review of the season?
“It was extraordinary,” he said. “I’m proud of myself. I’m more proud of my teammates for fighting through adversity.
“It definitely hurts seeing a shot like that go in, but I’m proud of my team and how we fought and how we played. Hats off to them, and hope they do well in the tournament.”