We’ve all been waiting for this.
Anyone rooting for the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team, and really anyone who follows college basketball recruiting, heard all the great things about Lonnie Walker IV. But the freshman had been solid but not spectacular this season.
Until Wednesday night in Coral Gables.
That’s when the diaper dandy scored 25 points (9-of-18 from the field, 4-of-9 three-point shooting), four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block in Miami’s 78-75 overtime win over the Louisville Cardinals. The 25 points is Walker IV’s second-highest scoring output of the season and his best game in ACC play. The one block was crucial, as it erased a three-point attempt from Ryan McMahon that would have put the Cardinals ahead with less than five seconds to go in the game.
Walker IV’s season-high scoring is 26 points against Boston University in early December. But given the opponent and the importance of the game, Wednesday night’s performance against Louisville is his best of the season. Going into the game with a 3-3 conference record, Miami could not afford to drop a home game and Louisville came in with a 5-1 conference record.
At the start of the game, Walker IV was quiet. But he got going halfway through the first half. In a span of four minutes, Walker IV scored 10 points, including hitting a tough stepback three-pointer to give Miami a four-point lead.
In the second half, he continued his solid play, even as Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown Jr. continued to struggle shooting the ball (those two ended the game with 20 points on 4-of-20 from the field and 0-of-5 from three-point range).
Late in the second half, with the Hurricanes down two, Walker IV drove the ball down the middle of the lane, jumped into the air with the ball in his left hand, then improbably switched it his right, and kissed the ball off the glass to tie the game. It was Jordan-esque, looking like when the Bulls legend switched hands for a layup in game two of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In overtime, Walker IV didn’t score. But he assisted Brown Jr. on Miami’s first basketball in the period. And then, the huge block that pretty much sealed the win for the Canes.
Walker IV has started four of Miami’s last five games, with a back injury keeping him from playing against North Carolina State at all. He’s scored double-figures in his last four games after not doing so in the prior six games.
Can he sustain this level of play for the rest of the season? That remains to be seen, but the upcoming schedule seems conducive to an increase in production, provided he can stay healthy. Before a February 13 showdown against the Virginia Cavaliers, Miami has a five-game stretch against teams that are all below the Canes in the standings (at Florida State, home against Pitt, at Virginia Tech, home against Wake Forest, and at Boston College). Three of those teams bring up the rear of the ACC standings. Not to say that the games are a given (hello Georgia Tech) but if Walker IV and friends play up to their abilities, they should win.
While other players need to step their play up, Walker IV showed that when he’s on, he can carry the Canes. If Brown Jr., Newton and others follow suit, this team can still be as dangerous as any in the country.