DALLAS — At a press conference Wednesday in advance of their NCAA Tournament opening game, Miami players Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes and Ja’Quan Newton were asked for their thoughts on gun control and the issue of gun violence.
The questions came as thousands of students across the country staged school walkouts, one month after Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.
“It was definitely a difficult time for me because I have a couple of friends who had family and friends that went to that school,” Walker said. “Seeing the people upset and crying, it definitely impacts you in a personal way. Just knowing it can happen at any moment, you just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that’s the end of your life.
“Most of those kids went to that school not expecting that to be their last day living. They went to that school to get educated, be knowledgeable and look forward to their future lives, so the fact that they got their lives taken away too quickly is very sad. This national walk, we have to take this seriously because Lord knows what could happen next. It’s all about how we want to make a change.”
Lykes, also a freshman, called gun violence “a national problem that we have,” he said. “It makes me understand that your life can be taken at any moment. … I think we do definitely need to make this an important issue worldwide. We’ve got to do something about this. We need to continue our focus towards that.”
None of the three players who spoke Wednesday are from South Florida — Walker and Newton hail from the Philadelphia area, Lykes from D.C. — but they live and go to school there. Newton, a senior, recalled how Miami and Syracuse wore “Praying for Douglas” t-shirts before their Feb. 17 game, three days after the shooting.
“It was an hour away from us, so it impacted us a lot,” Newton said. “It’s just something that I think should be handled in a very, very calm way by the government.”
Miami (22-9), the No. 6 seed in the South region, faces No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (28-5) at approximately 3:10 p.m. Thursday (truTV).
It still might be. But it won’t look like that when TV cameras pan over to the Miami bench during Thursday’s first-round game against Loyola-Chicago in Dallas (3:10 p.m., truTV).
Jim Larranaga, addressing reporters Tuesday before the team left for the airport, shared some surprising news:
“For those of you who don’t know,” he said, “it’s going to be a shock for everybody, Bruce Brown will be dressing come Thursday. He won’t play, but he wants to be in uniform.”
Brown, out since Jan. 30 with a stress fracture on the side of his left foot, said at the ACC Tournament he hoped to play again this year. He had a pin surgically inserted into his fifth metatarsal in early February. He has worn a walking boot since, watching Miami go 7-4 in 11 games without him. On Selection Sunday, the normally energetic Brown appeared a bit subdued.
“The first thing is, we’ve got to play well enough to win the game,” Larranaga said when asked about Brown’s potential availability beyond Thursday. “Then after that, you make decisions one day at a time.”
Two days earlier, Larranaga strongly suggested Brown was done for the year.
“He hasn’t played in six weeks,” Larranaga said Sunday. “It’ll take him six weeks to rehab the foot. You go to the NCAA tournament and you play Bruce Brown, you think he’ll play hard? You’re darn right, and that would that pressure on the danger of him reinjuring it. There’s no chance he will play Thursday.”
Asked Sunday if Brown could return for the NCAA Tournament at all, should Miami make a run, Larranaga said this:
“Let me put it this way: If Bruce decides to come back next year for his [junior] year, then we’ll plan on playing him.”
At the time of his injury, Brown, an NBA draft prospect, was averaging 11.4 points per game, second on the team, and led the Hurricanes with 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Breaking: Bruce Brown will dress on Thursday against Loyola Chicago, according to Jim Larrañaga. He won’t play in the opening round, but Miami will take it one day at a time if the Canes advance. pic.twitter.com/fk1WwKHEGu
A few hoops notes on a Monday night, as we prepare to head to Dallas for the NCAA Tournament:
* Relative to the barren years before Jim Larranaga, the Hurricanes are in a fruitful place.
But it’s fair to wonder if next year will be a bit dry.
Thursday’s first-round game against Loyola-Chicago in Dallas (approximately 3:10 p.m., truTV) will be Miami’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six seasons. Consider this: In 49 seasons before Larranaga arrived from George Mason in 2011-12, Miami had six NCAA tournament appearances total. Recall that the team went dark for a 14-year period ending in 1985. Between that year and its ACC title-Sweet 16 combo in 2013, Canes basketball was all but forgotten outside of South Florida.
Larranaga is one of the more beloved coaches in this area’s sports history. He would be a strong candidate for a Mount Rushmore of UM coaches, along with baseball’s Ron Fraser, football’s Howard Schnellenberger, and a few others (that’s for another blog post).
However, he might have a doozy of an offseason ahead.
The personnel losses could be significant. Ja’Quan Newton graduates. Sophomore Bruce Brown and freshman Lonnie Walker are expected to test the NBA Draft waters (underclassmen can wade in and out, provided they don’t hire an agent). Miami adds 6-5 transfer guard Miles Wilson (11.8 points as a Mount St. Mary’s freshman last year), but will lose a point guard with lots of scoring talent and, potentially, a pair of future first-round draft picks.
After UM’s NCAA bid was announced, Walker told the Post he will decide his future after the season. He said he plans to lean on both Larranaga and his father.
“At the moment I haven’t really been thinking about the NBA,” Walker said. “That’s what kind of messes up a lot of players, when you think of other things besides playing. You can’t be five toes here, five toes out. Once the ball drops, it’s time for me to go and make a decision. Right now, I try not to think about it. It makes it so much easier to concentrate.”
UM would be pleasantly surprised if either returns.
Two former five-stars exiting would be tolerable if UM continued its recruiting hot streak. But that fizzled when it was part of a Sept. 26 U.S. Department of Justice report. The document exposed dealings of shoe companies and street agents conspiring to funnel money to recruits — including Orlando-based wing Nassir Little, by men who said Miami had knowledge of the would-be transaction. UM has strongly denied any involvement, and both Little and his parents signed statements saying they accepted no money, had no knowledge of the situation and that UM did nothing wrong.
One official said the school feels victimized, since the FBI typically doesn’t clear schools found to be innocent in such matters. Waging a PR war against a government agency would be a messy proposition at best. UM has opted to let this pass.
It has hurt, no doubt. To date, Miami has zero recruits in its 2018 class, and could have up to four unused scholarships if Brown and Walker depart and no one is added.
The Hurricanes were involved with several of ESPN’s top 100 players before the news broke. All wound up signing elsewhere: 6-7 wing Little, 10th overall, went to North Carolina; 6-3 guard Jalen Carey (37th, Syracuse), 6-7 small forward Jules Bernard (46th, UCLA) and 6-3 guard Eric Ayala (91st, Maryland) also cut the Canes. UM was also in on 6-6 small forward Saddiq Bey, a four-star prospect and ESPN’s top-rated player in Washington, D.C. He wound up at N.C. State.
The FBI case wasn’t the only issue affecting Miami’s recruiting: Little’s early September official visit to Coral Gables was canceled when the school closed in advance of Hurricane Irma. Miami basketball, as one staffer sarcastically remarked, has had more enjoyable falls.
* By next fall, how will UM’s roster look?
It isn’t totally punting on the 2018 class, especially with a volatile FBI-NCAA situation simmering and the potential of new revelations. Division I recruits can sign from April 11 to May 16. Barring a late prep addition, the Hurricanes would mine the transfer market, an area of past success for Larranaga. Don’t be surprised if Miami engages with transfers who hail from what has become its pipeline: the Northeast corridor, from Boston to New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia down to the Baltimore/D.C. area.
The wish list for next year’s team, assuming Brown and Walker depart: athletic wings and guards, another rebounder in the frontcourt and another point guard. We’ll delve deeper into next year’s roster after UM’s tournament run ends.
* Miami will always hunt for those rare hometown gems, and none for 2019 is more sparkling than Vernon Carey Jr., the 6-10, 260-pound son of the former UM and Miami Dolphins offensive lineman. Carey’s father has said the family is concerned about the FBI situation, but UM believes it is not out of it until Carey has signed. Duke, UNC and Michigan State are also in the mix, but consider this: all have been connected to the FBI case themselves.
Carey, ESPN’s No. 2 player in the 2019 class, is projected as a beast inside on both ends, with soft hands, shooting touch, bullish power and the ability to put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two. He is young for his class, according to ESPN, which believes he has lots of growing to do.
The Hurricanes are also making strides with 6-2 Philadelphia-area combo guard Isaiah Wong; 6-3 shooting guard Khalif Battle (brother of Syracuse standout Tyus; their stepmom, the former Tanya Woods, played hoops at UM); and 6-6 wing Khalil Whitney, from New Jersey.
They are not recruiting 7-1 center Balsa Koprivica, who is involved in the FBI case. Koprivica, from Serbia, played with Carey at Davie-University before transferring to an Orlando school.
* Carey’s current teammate, 6-6 wing Scottie Barnes, is on UM’s wish list for 2020. Recruiting analysts say Barnes (who transferred to U-School from Cardinal Newman) is a Scottie Pippen clone. He is ESPN’s No. 5 player in the 2020 class. Another local talent to monitor: 6-foot Gulliver Prep point guard Jamal Mashburn Jr., the son of the former Heat star.
* The Hurricanes (22-9) earned the No. 22 spot in the newest Associated Press top 25, released Monday. It is their highest position since Jan. 8, when they were 13-2 and ranked No. 18. UM, the preseason No. 13, climbed as high as No. 6, in December.
* Miami will depart to Dallas around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. It practices Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Center. The Post will be there.
Miami’s opponent in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament got its first bid in 33 years. While history buffs recall Loyola’s pre-Beatlemania national championship (1963), others rave about the Ramblers’ defense and nonconference win at Florida.
That’s right: the Hurricanes are dealing with a pre-tournament Cinderella darling.
Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh called the Hurricanes “beatable,” and implored Tribune readers to “[g]et to know everything about coach Porter Moser’s team, from the backcourt brotherhood of … Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson, who have played together since third grade in Overland Park, Kan., to Sister Jean Schmidt, the Jesuit school’s charming 98-year-old chaplain. Learn as much as possible about honorable Loyola legend Jerry Harkness and the historically significant 1963 national championship team that shook society by starting four black players in the “Game of Change.’’
Clearly, we know who Sister Jean is picking. Outside of the Windy City, knee-jerk bracket reactions had Miami on varying degrees of upset watch.
Four writers from The Athletic — Seth Davis, C.L. Brown, Brian Hamilton and Sam Vecenie — all chose the Ramblers over the Canes in round one.
Double digit seeds that will win a game: South Dakota St, Loyola, UCLA, Providence, New Mexico State (sweet 16) @TheAthleticCBB
“This game will be a test of Loyola’s excellent defense, which ranks 24th in efficiency and held Florida to 59 points in a non-conference victory,” he wrote. “It’s possible no team is better than Miami at isolating opposing defenders and preventing them from helping each other. The Hurricanes rank 265th in assist rate, because that’s how they play it: their man vs. your man. Just try keeping Lonnie Walker or Chris Lykes out of the lane.”
The New York Times said Miami had “better look out.”
Sports Illustrated called Loyola “everybody’s favorite Cinderella candidate,” and thinks this’ll be the South’s must-see first-round game. However, SI warned, “dismiss a Jim Larranaga team at your own risk—you may recall Larranaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds,” referring to George Mason’s 2006 Final Four run.
Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde, touting Loyola as an upset-minded outfit: “This is a fun team to watch, with willing passers and skilled shooters. The difference maker from other mid-major contenders is a true low-post presence in freshman Cameron Krutwig, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound load with a nice touch around the basket. The Ramblers’ only loss in the past two months was a two-pointer on the road, and they won at Florida early in the season. They won’t scare easily.” Forde also called 6-3 senior guard Ben Richardson, the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, as one of the tournament’s players who does the most without scoring.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, in its ranking of teams 1-68, had Loyola at 38. That was 14 spots behind Miami.
“Miami isn’t a credible national title threat this March,” Lunardi wrote, especially without Bruce Brown (if healthy, Lunardi said, Brown “might have been the biggest X-factor in the entire bracket”). Also, he wrote, “some of UM’s key players struggle at the free throw line and that Achilles’ heel will rear its ugly head at some point in this NCAA tourney. … The Hurricanes are favored to win their first NCAA tourney game, but the level of competition figures to pick up considerably from there. It’s easy to envision this young team acting its collective age and being sent home sooner than it would like.”
“The raw talent and depth of this roster could carry Miami into the second weekend, maybe further,” Patterson wrote. “Miami showed during its late-season charge to the 3-seed in the ACC Tournament that if things click the Canes can beat anyone. Jim Larranaga’s team is a little banged up almost the entire season, but it’s also rounded into a deep team with lots of ways to beat you.”
He also noted 3-seed Tennessee was ripe for picking in a second-round matchup, either by Miami or Loyola.
ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight gave Miami a 60 percent chance to beat Loyola, a 25 percent chance to make the Sweet 16, an eight percent shot at the Elite Eight and a two percent chance to make the Final Four. Its chance of winning it all? Less than one percent. (Virginia, at 18 percent, and Villanova, at 17, are overwhelming favorites to win it all).
According to odds released Sunday by offshore sportsbook BetDSI, Miami is a 3-point favorite.
The Ramblers (28-5, 15-3) won the Missouri Valley Conference with a 65-49 decision over Illinois State. They won nine games at home, including a 65-59 win at then-No. 5 Florida on Dec. 6. This is their first NCAA bid since 1985.
The winner meets the winner of a Thursday first-round game between No. 3 seed Tennessee (25-8) and No. 14 Wright State (25-9). That game is Saturday.
If Miami makes it to the Sweet 16, it could meet either No. 2 Cincinnati, which plays No. 15 Georgia State in the first round, No. 7 Nevada or No. 10 Texas.
The South region runs through Atlanta. ACC champion Virginia is the No. 1 seed, and the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed.
Players, coaches and about 75 fans watched the bracket reveal from a party UM threw at its Rathskeller bar on campus. Freshman guard Lonnie Walker admitted he was nervous as he waited to hear Miami’s name called.
“My stomach was really going through it,” said Walker, whose only trip to Dallas was for a high school dunk contest (he didn’t remember what types of dunks he threw down). “To see our name on the board was really pleasing,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about as a kid, playing in March Madness,” freshman guard Chris Lykes said.
Miami has faced two other Loyolas in its history — Maryland and New Orleans — but not Chicago, which in 1963 won the NCAA title and remains the only Division I basketball program from Illinois with a ring.
Coach Jim Larranaga was impressed by the Ramblers’ win at Florida, and in a short team meeting after the selection show, he made sure each of his players knew about it. He has a personal connection to the school: its athletics director, Steve Watson, played two years under Larranaga at Bowling Green. “He was a terrific player for me,” Larranaga said.
He noted that coach Porter Moser is a disciple of Rick Majerus, the late former coach of Utah and other schools. He called Majerus a “defensive genius,” and said Moser’s teams probably follow in that tradition.
Loyola-Chicago is indeed a strong defensive team, ranking 24th in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings. Its offense is 68th, and it is 41st in KenPom’s overall rankings. It is also 312th of 351 Division I teams in tempo, meaning it prefers a slower game. Miami ranks 52nd in defense, 45th in offense, 36th overall and 225th in tempo.
Offensively, the Ramblers shoot 50.7 percent as a team and five of their players average in double-figures, led by 6-foot-1 guard Clayton Custer (13.4 points per game, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals).
Guard Donte Ingram (11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds) is the Ramblers’ leading rebounder at 6-5, 215. They aren’t a big team, with center Cameron Krutwig (6-9, 260) and forward Aundre Jackson (6-5, 230) their beefiest regulars.
The Ramblers, who spent 34 years in the Horizon League before joining the MVC in 2013, finished 10th, sixth, eighth and fifth in the four previous years under Moser, who is in his seventh season. He had not had a winning conference record until going 15-3 this year. The Ramblers’ conference title was a program first. They were CBI champions in 2015, the same year Miami went to the NIT semifinals.
Between reaching the Sweet 16 in 1985 and their move to the MVC in 2013, they finished above .500 in the Horizon four times.
Miami went 11-8 against ACC opponents, and finished the end of the regular season ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. The Hurricanes went 11-6 away from home, including a win at North Carolina, the ACC Tournament finalist.
Despite the fact the Canes lost to UNC 82-65 on Thursday in the conference tourney, they had more than enough on their resume to make it to the tournament. Since playing in the Sweet 16 in 2013 — a feat repeated in 2016 — Miami has gone dancing in four of the last five seasons.
“This school’s becoming a school where we’re making the tournament on a consistent basis now,” said guard Ja’Quan Newton, UM’s only senior. “Coach L’s really turned us around. It feels great, man. I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
The ACC had nine bids, more than any other conference. At the UM party, the loudest boos were reserved for screen appearances by Florida State, Duke and UNC, along with the SEC’s Florida. A few fans threw scattered boos at Notre Dame, and some laughed at the inclusion of Syracuse — an entrant despite its 20-13 record and 8-10 mark in ACC play.
Last year, Miami finished 21-12 (10-8 ACC) and lost to Michigan State 78-58 in a first-round tilt in Tulsa, Oklahoma. UM lost two seniors from that team (forward Kamari Murphy and guard Davon Reed).
This UM squad added freshman guard Lonnie Walker, who leads the team in scoring (11.5 points). Sophomore forward Dewan Huell is tied for second (11.4, with 6.6 rebounds). For the last 11 games, the Canes have been playing without leading rebounder and assist-getter Bruce Brown (7.1 and 4.0, along with 11.4 points), a sophomore who has a fracture in his left foot.
This team, which lacked experience heading into the year, figured out their roles. They learned how to win. And then, how to play without Brown.
“I thought throughout the year we made progress, but the progress was sometimes one step forward, two steps back,” Larranga said. I was absolutely thrilled when we won four straight to end the the regular season and earned the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament. I just was disappointed we didn’t play better in the ACC quarterfinals against Carolina. … Now we’ve got to bounce back and play much better come Thursday.”
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.”
NEW YORK — For the record: the Hurricanes had a long stay at the ACC Tournament.
They just didn’t play many games.
Third-seeded Miami (22-9) arrived in town Monday, practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, but were bounced out Thursday by sixth-seeded North Carolina. After leading by as many as 14 early, Miami lost by 17. The final: 82-65.
The game was close until the final moments, when walk-ons gave a thick Carolina crowd at Barclays Center lots to celebrate as Thursday became Friday. They were overjoyed the Tar Heels (24-9) got their revenge for Ja’Quan Newton’s buzzer-beater on senior night. They toasted first to Theo Pinson.
The senior forward had a monster game: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 9-of-12 shooting and, improbably, two made 3-pointers. The Canes’ 37.1 percent shooting was worse than Carolina’s (40.8), but Miami made 53.8 percent of its free throws and allowed the Heels to grab 17 of their 42 misses.
“It hurts,” said Lonnie Walker, who shot 4-of-14 and finished with nine points, six rebounds and three assists. “It feels like back in high school, when I lost the state semi. This is definitely a dagger in my heart. This is only going to make us hungrier.”
Five takeaways from a one-and-done trip to Barclays Center:
The Canes are a middle-of-the bracket team. Flawed, like many squads in college basketball, Miami missed a chance to grab their second win over UNC — a top-5 RPI team — and face Duke in the semifinals. They’ll await Selection Sunday and should expect to be a No. 6 or 7 seed, depending on the performance of other teams this weekend.
“We can beat anybody,” Newton said. “We proved that in the ACC. We can play with anybody. Whoever we play, it’s going to be a good one. It’s going to be a battle.”
The Canes gave it away. Miami led by 14 points at 12:58 of the first half. They didn’t expect to blow out Carolina, but they didn’t expect another collapse, either.
Carolina opened 0-for-13, and 0-for-7 from 3, and Tar Heels coach Roy Williams made a full five-man line change with Miami up 12-0. Dewan Huell had five rebounds in the first eight minutes.
Then the Canes hit a 1-for-10 funk, and Carolina went on a 17-4 run to take a 1-point lead at 19-18. The Heels held the lead once more in the first half: right at the end, when Walker inexplicably fouled Cameron Johnson on a 60-foot heave at the end of the half. Johnson sank all three shots to put Carolina up 32-31.
“We’ve made some, I’ll say, ill-advised decisions,” coach Jim Larranaga told ESPN at the break.
Walker took full responsibility.
“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.”
Miami was soft in the middle. The Hurricanes were outrebounded 52-41, and it felt like 100-41 because of all the missed shots. Carolina collected 42 points in the paint, blocked eight UM shots. The Heels grabbed 40 percent of their misses, while Miami grabbed 27 percent of its own.
Miami missed several easy layups, such as on this sequence in the final minutes: Ja’Quan Newton was called for a charge when he should have finished a fast-break layup. On the next Miami possession, Dewan Huell (2-for-8, 5 points, seven rebounds) missed a dunk in traffic. The ball bounced to Newton, but Pinson dove and snatched it away. It led to a Kenny Williams dunk at the other end, and a 10-point Carolina lead. That was the backbreaker for UM.
“If we don’t match their intensity, the score speaks for itself,” Walker said.
Newton was otherwise good. Stop us if you’ve seen this before (because you likely have not): Newton backpedaled down the court, flashing “double 3s” to the Miami bench. The senior point guard, who hit the winning 40-footer at Carolina on Feb. 27, hit a pair of 3s for the first time this season. He finished with 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Anthony Lawrence Jr. (12 points) was the only other Hurricane in double figures.
“I’ve been very happy,” Newton said. “My spirit’s been very good. … When you do that, good things come out of that.”
Throwback game. Carolina limps to the ACC semifinals against Duke after seeing Cameron Johnson and Joel Berry leave the game and return with injuries, and Luke Maye (who was 1-of-15 shooting but grabbed 13 rebounds) wearing a heavy scratch down his arm. Bodies were flying everywhere. It looked more like an old-school Big East game, appropriate for New York City.
Miami avoided a scare when Lawrence left with 6:10 in the first half and had his foot or ankle checked out on the bench. He returned four minutes later, but limped off the court one minute later. He went to the locker room and did not return for the start of the second half, but returned with 18:22 left, wearing a wrap on his left ankle. He had 12 points and six rebounds.
“I’m good,” Lawrence said of his injury.
Good news for UM: Bruce Brown, as reported before, will be reevaluated Monday. He hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament.
NEW YORK — Miami’s basketball coaches are no strangers to the Northeast. Coach Jim Larranaga is a Bronx guy. Associate coach Chris Caputo grew up in Queens, and assistants Jamal Brunt (Baltimore) and Adam Fisher (Philadelphia) hail from major metro areas.
The only player on the roster with roots in New York City is reserve center Rodney Miller, a 7-foot, 255-pound sophomore who played at Oak Hill Prep in Virginia. He is averaging fewer than four minutes per game, but UM remains encouraged by his development.
A few minutes with Miller:
He was born in Brooklyn but now lives in the Laurelton section of Queens. Miami arrived in town Monday, and he got to go home Tuesday night and eat a home-cooked meal of jerk chicken, rice and beans. He’s a Knicks fan who prefers Madison Square Garden, but he’s plenty happy to be at the Barclays Center.
“There’s no place like home,” he said. “I love New York. Playing in Brooklyn is a great environment. I’m so excited.”
He chose Miami over LSU and Wake Forest. Why? “Mainly the coaching staff,” said Miller, a four-star recruit in the 2016 class. “Great group of coaches. I felt like they were really trustworthy and just a good group of guys. I took a visit and loved the campus. Obviously Miami’s a beautiful place, but the facilities are beautiful and everyone there was ready and willing to help.”
He’s starting to feel more comfortable as an ACC big man. Miller has played 47 minutes in 14 games this year, but appeared in five of UM’s last nine contests. He has made 7-of-12 field goals this year and grabbed six rebounds. “I know what I can and can’t do,” he said. “I still have a lot more to work on. I’m getting to where I want to be.
“I just have to be more aggressive on the court, more of a presence. Be a big man. I’m a true 5. You don’t find many of those anymore. I need to be a presence, rebound, block shots, box out.”
Miami likes his upside. In practice, Miller shows decent touch around the basket, has low-post moves in traffic and can find the open man. Bringing that to games depends on him getting into better shape.
“I feel like I’ll play a big part on this team,” he said. “I think the future holds a lot for me in this program. I’m excited to keep pushing forward.
Conditioning is a key for Miller, who was dogged by recruiting websites (ESPN panned him for his “disappointing motor,” but noted he “drastically improved” in that area as a prep upperclassman). He admits he lost his battle to the dining hall last year, though he reports feeling stronger as a sophomore.
“When I first came to UM I was skinny, 235-240,” Miller said. “I gained some weight. The freshman 15 hit me. I worked really hard to get it off. I put on a lot of muscle. I hope to max bench 300 pounds this summer.”
The culprit, as it is for many college freshmen, was “the access,” he said. “At Oak Hill we had three meals a day, very strict. Here there’s a lot more freedom.”
His favorite food: “Fried chicken and mac and cheese, real greasy stuff,” he said. “Definitely got to stay away from that stuff. I’m eating more baked chicken, trying to stay away from red meats, a lot of veggies. Less juices, more water. Less sugar.
“It’s all about sticking with it. I’ve been working on my mental toughness, being consistent and mentally strong. It’s about how bad you want it. I want it bad. This summer I’m going to really focus on my conditioning and come back in the best shape of my life.”
Previewing the quarterfinal between the Hurricanes and North Carolina:
Records: Miami (22-8, 11-7 ACC); North Carolina (23-9, 11-7).
When: 9 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y. (capacity: 19,000).
Line: UNC by 6.
What’s at stake: Miami jumped off the bubble with its Feb. 27 win in Chapel Hill. UM is 1-3 against the RPI top 25. UNC, currently No. 5 in RPI, was its only win against that group. It lost to Virginia and Duke — two teams it could meet if it advances in Brooklyn — and at Clemson. A neutral-floor win over UNC wouldn’t be as impressive as taking one at the Dean Dome, but would solidify the Hurricanes’ status as one of the hotter teams in the country (four wins in a row, 7-3 in their last 10 without star guard Bruce Brown).
If they’re one-and-done in Brooklyn, they’ll be in the middle of the bracket. As of Thursday, ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post projected Miami as a No. 6 seed. The Athletic had UM as a No. 7.
UNC, which banked nonconference wins over RPI heavyweights Arkansas (30), Michigan (13), Ohio State (21) and Tennessee (9, on the road), also toppled Duke (4) and Clemson (11). With 11 quadrant 1 wins, the Tar Heels appear to be a 3-seed at worst, with a chance to move to the top line if they go on a run in Brooklyn.
Projection: ESPN’s BPI projects UNC as having a 76.1 percent chance to win.
Online:ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app. Must be an ESPN subscriber to access the stream (which is subject to blackout).
Radio: Joe Zagacki will call the game for 560 WQAM.
Last time out: Miami beat Virginia Tech 69-68 and has won four in a row by a combined eight points. UNC beat Syracuse 78-59 on Wednesday to advance to the ACC quarterfinals.
Series: UNC leads the all-time series 21-8, though Miami has won six of the last nine. Jim Larranaga is 6-5 against the Tar Heels as UM’s coach, winning three times in Chapel Hill. The teams split last year’s meetings. Miami won 77-62 in Coral Gables. UNC trounced UM 78-53 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Rankings: UNC is No. 12 in the Associated Press poll. Miami is No. 24.
Ratings: UNC is eighth in KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings (fourth offense, 42nd defense). Miami is 35th (46th offense, 41st defense).
Facebook: Visit the Post’s Hurricanes page, Post on Miami Hurricanes, for news, analysis, photos and videos in your Facebook feed.
Projected starting lineups
0 — Ja’Quan Newton, G, Sr., 6-3, 191
4 – Lonnie Walker IV, G, Fr., 6-5, 204
3 – Anthony Lawrence II, F, Jr., 6-7, 210
20 – Dewan Huell, F, Soph., 6-11, 236
15 — Ebuka Izundu, C, Jr., 6-10, 235
2 — Joel Berry, G, Sr., 6-0, 195
24 — Kenny Williams, G, Jr., 6-4, 185
13 — Cameron Johnson, G, Sr., 6-87, 210
1 — Theo Pinson, F, Sr., 6-6, 220
32 — Luke Maye, F, Jr., 6-8, 240
Three things to watch
How tired will North Carolina be?
They only had to play one game, rather than two, but the Tar Heels aren’t a deep squad. Their five starters all surpassed the 30-minute mark against Syracuse; backup forward Garrison Brooks was next in usage, with eight minutes. Miami , meanwhile, has had two days to practice, and should have the depth advantage. Even without Bruce Brown, UM can go seven deep thanks to the emergence of guard Chris Lykes and forward Sam Waardenburg.
Can Miami’s D frustrate UNC?
The Heels struggled in the first half against Syracuse’s zone, shooting 38 percent. Thanks in large part to Pinson, they controlled the latter part of the first half onward. The senior forward had 16 points, 11 rebound and six assists, the latter a key in helping UNC open up a 21-point lead. The Hurricanes hope Berry, who dropped 31 on them in Chapel Hill, keeps stumbling. In his last two games (Syracuse, at Duke), he has made 5 of his last 20 field goals (2-14 from 3).
Will Miami’s backcourt come to play?
Newton tallied the last seven points for Miami in Chapel Hill, and was so hot that Jim Larranaga didn’t call timeout after Berry’s tying 3 with four seconds left — he just let Newton run the floor and launch one from 40 feet. The senior’s confidence is high, but he had five turnovers and two points in UM’s regular-season finale against Virginia Tech. Lykes was better, with 15 points and seven assists, and DJ Vasiljevic was hot from 3 (4-for-6, 16 points). UM will need all of them to show up.
NEW YORK — As the NCAA Tournament picture comes into focus, one thing seems clear: there are no truly dominant teams.
“I don’t trust anybody,” said Jerry Palm, CBS Sports’ chief bracketologist. “OK, I trust Virginia and Villanova. But that’s it. … And I don’t know that I’d pick either of them to win the tournament.”
“It’s one of those years a 7-seed could win,” the Athletic’s Stewart Mandel said.
Virginia, which rolled through the ACC with a 17-1 record, is the favorite at the conference tournament this week in Brooklyn. The Cavaliers are likely to nab a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. They’re a safe pick.
“Whenever you play in a tournament, your plan is to win it,” said Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, whose third-seeded squad opens play at 9 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2). “We’re playing really good teams. If the seeds were to hold up, we’d have to beat North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. But who knows who’s going to play great.”
Before this season, and during much of it, Larranaga worried about the inexperience on his team. He’s fretting less and less come March.
As his team practiced Tuesday at a prep school in Lower Manhattan, he rattled off the outstanding performances that have carried Miami (22-8, 11-7 ACC) in the 10 games since star sophomore Bruce Brown broke his left foot. UM won its final four games by a total of eight points, and is 7-3 without Brown, who will be reevaluated Monday.
Forward Anthony Lawrence scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a win over Virginia Tech. Backup center Ebuka Izundu, starting his first game, put up 14 and 8 at Notre Dame. Super sub Chris Lykes scored 11 points in the final four minutes against Boston College. Lonnie Walker hit several big shots in the final minutes in that game and others.
“There’s a different guy every night,” Larranaga said.
Not only is Ja’Quan Newton playing strong defense and bringing energy, he hit a buzzer-beating 3 in Miami’s most glittering resume piece: a 91-88 win at No. 9 North Carolina. In each of the last two seasons, he was suspended for three games for rules violations. UM’s lone senior has bought in fully. “This is the best I’ve seen him,” Larranaga said.
Forward Sam Waardenburg’s emergence has been particularly important, since it allows Larranaga to move Lawrence from power forward to small forward and rest Walker. When Brown was healthy, Larranaga preferred to make a Brown-for-Walker switch. But the redshirt freshman from New Zealand has proven trustworthy, playing 20-plus minutes in his last three games, with seven points and 13 rebounds in that span. He was particularly impactful in UM’s win at UNC (four assists, two steals and a block). Larranaga was overjoyed at his composure in front of 20,251 fans wearing Carolina blue.
Back home in Auckland, the biggest crowd Waardenburg faced was all of 70 people.
“That’s why early in the season, when we went to Minnesota, he looked like a nervous wreck,” Larranaga said. “Now, at Carolina? He’s making great defensive plays, great passes, just playing like a real veteran. He looks terrific.”
At the Barclays Center, where crowds on Wednesday were hampered by heavy snow and wind brought by Winter Storm Quinn, Miami might meet the Tar Heels again. The Canes will play the winner of Wednesday’s late game between UNC (22-9, 11-7) and Syracuse (20-12, 8-10). The Orange, who won 62-55 at UM last month, are desperate for a win to get off the bubble.
Miami will assuredly make the cut regardless of its performance in Brooklyn. Palm has the Hurricanes as a No. 8 NCAA seed; a “middle-of-a-bracket team,” he said. He feels they may not make it out of the first weekend.
“They’re in that lump of teams that could go on a run, or get knocked off by a 12-seed in the first round,” Mandel said. “There’s not a lot of teams that have been consistent enough this season to say, I’m going to put all my eggs in their basket.”
So, Larranaga wonders, why not his team? They’ve already figured out how to play without Brown, so why can’t they figure out how to win an ACC title?
“I don’t know how we’re going to do,” he said. “But if you told me two weeks ago that we’d get a double-bye … We did our part.”