The Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team is coming off the back of a season of intense highs and lows. The Canes came into the season with high expectations and a preseason ranking of 12th in the coaches poll and 13th in the AP poll. While the year didn’t ultimately pan out as fans had hoped, there were still a number of memorable highlights.
The Canes started the year on a tear. They won the first five games of the regular season by an average of about 26 points per game, though the competition was mostly lackluster. Thus, the Big Ten / ACC Challenge matchup against 12th ranked Minnesota gave the team their first chance to prove their worth against what was perceived to be major competition.
The Hurricanes responded with a tightly contested 86-81 victory led by Dewan Hernandez’s (then Huell) 23 points in 27 minutes. The game featured positive performances from the team’s major players including a 16-9-5 line from Bruce Brown and impressive highlights from Chris Lykes and Hernandez. Of course, the Gophers would go on to have a disappointing season that ended with a 15-17 record and no postseason play, but at the time it seemed like it could have been a signature victory for Miami.
A little over a month later the Hurricanes were coming off a disappointing loss to Georgia Tech - a team that was 6-7 at the time - heading into a huge home game against the bitter rivals from Tallahassee. The Seminoles were ranked 24th at the time and the Canes were 15th.
Huge performances from Brown, Hernandez, and everybody’s favorite 5’7” point guard Chris Lykes once again led Miami to a gutty 80-74 victory. Brown led the team with 23 points on just eight shots, while Hernandez followed closely with 20 points on 12 shots, but it was Lykes’ electrifying night that stood out most. He finished with 18 points on 10 shots, but did so in exciting fashion and cemented himself as a fan-favorite.
Just about three weeks after the big rivalry game came an explosion from Lonnie Walker. The five-star from Reading, Pennsylvania started the season slowly thanks to an unfortunate MCL injury, but there was no mistaking his talent after the matchup with Louisville on Jan. 24.
Walker finished the night with a game-high 25 points on 9-18 shooting from the field and 4-9 from three. He also chipped in four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. Of course, the game was also the site of what was perhaps his season-defining moment with a hyper-aggressive drive to the basket in the final seconds of regulation. Walker dropped in a heavily-contested acrobatic layup to tie the game at 69 with about five seconds left to play. The game served as a showcase of all the talents that would eventually result in him being drafted 18th in the NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
Lonnie Walker wasn’t done with his heroics yet, either. With the season winding down and the Canes fighting to secure a place in the NCAA Tournament (or March Madness if you prefer), Miami found itself in a tight game with ACC opponents Boston College. The conference’s second-leading scorer Jerome Robinson did just about everything in his power to lead the Eagles to victory, but Walker had different ideas.
The super-freshman had “just” 14 points on the night, but it was the timing of his last three points that made the difference. With the Canes trailing by two and just under 10 seconds left on the clock, Coach L turned to Walker. He responded with a few probing dribbles at the top of the key, but with nowhere to go he settled on a step-back three to his right. The tough shot splashed home and gave Miami a one-point lead with just 2.3 seconds left on the clock. That ended up being enough to earn the team’s 20th win of the season and further Walker’s legacy as a cold-blooded killer.
The last (but certainly not least) memorable moment of the year came in the penultimate game of the regular season. The Hurricanes traveled to Chapel Hill on UNC’s senior night and decided to make the moment their own.
The back-and-forth affair remained unsettled with about four seconds left after a game-tying three from Joel Berry. Ja’Quan Newton responded with a running heave from about half-court that dropped in the net as the final buzzer sounded. The shot all but guaranteed the Canes a spot in the NCAA Tournament and served as major redemption for Newton after a disappointing senior season. It was a historic shot that will no doubt live on in Hurricanes lore as one of the most iconic moments in recent memory for the program.