A fight put up by the Miami Hurricanes was not sustainable Wednesday night against the Virginia Tech Hokies, as UM found themselves out of momentum and out of gas well before the final buzzer, as the Canes fell to no. 12 VT at the Watsco Center on Wednesday Night 82-70.
Both teams now see their seasons going in polar opposite directions. The Hokies (17-3, 6-2 ACC) are off to their best start since the 1995-96 season. Meanwhile, Miami (9-11, 1-7 ACC) has dropped their fourth straight ACC game since the Frank Haith era, during a four-game losing streak midway through the 2010-11 season.
A sparse crowd failed to provide the home-court advantage the Hurricanes were looking for. The official attendance of 6,860 was not reflective of the actual crowd.
UM is able to play good basketball. However, they cannot play with enough consistency.
“You may be surprised with what I’m going to say, there was a time in the second half that I thought we played our best basketball,” said coach Jim Larrañaga. “Things we want to do every day, every game. Defensive end of the floor, get stops, share the ball on offense, find the open man, penetrate and pitch, get touches, get everyone involved. I told the team that this is the way we need to play all the time. Hopefully it is a lesson that will prove to be helpful for us for the remainder of the season.”
Larrañaga blames recent struggles on a lack of consistency and chemistry among other deficiencies.
“Quite frankly, we haven’t been doing that,” said Larrañaga after talking about his team’s ability to play well in spurts. “It’s frustrating for the players, it’s frustrating for the coaching staff. You fall behind because you’re not playing good quality basketball.
“I thought we has terrific chemistry over the last four or five years,” said Larrañaga, referring to players such as Shane Larkin, Angel Rodriguez and Davon Reed’s era. “This year we have some new guys, we have some different starters. We’ve had some very strange circumstances to deal with.” Larrañaga believes that the lack of depth along with the thrusting of younger into large amounts of playing time are to blame for the struggles of this season.
Chris Lykes recovered from his recent funk Wednesday, leading UM with 19 points. The effort comes after the Hurricanes’ leading scorer this season was held to seven points at Syracuse and just one against Florida State in his two most recent outings.
“He played very hard and scored the ball,” said Larrañaga. “He is going to be very effective when his teammates are playing well, when they’re making shots, when they’re stretching the defense so [Lykes] can get dribble penetration.”
“I try to do the things I normally do,” said Lykes. “Guys have bad games, but you always want to try to bounce back from it.” Lykes added that his two-game slump may have been a wake up call for him, and that his teammates did a good job supporting him while he was down.
Anthony Lawrence also provided the Canes with 15 points. The stretch forward grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, proving a bastion of stable versatility in a season plagued with inconsistencies.
Zach Johnson, reinserted into the starting lineup by Larrañaga Wednesday, joined Lykes and Lawrence in the double-figure club with ten points of his own.
But otherwise, the pantry was paltry for the team down to just a seven-man rotation. The always-shorthanded Hurricanes were unable to stop the high-flying Hokies, allowing three VT players to score at least 17 points, led by Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s 25 points.
“[Coach Larrañaga’s] opinion is probably correct,” said Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams on Larrañaga’s opinion that Alexander-Walker is an NBA caliber player, among to the likes of Shabazz Napier and Lonnie Walker. “We’re grateful that he’s here. He is an unbelievable kid that’s important to our team, I thought at times he played incredibly well tonight.”
Ahmed Hill and Justin Robinson also added 19 and 17 points, while Ty Outlaw added 11 for the visitors.
Kerry Blackshear was held by UM’s defense to just a point, but the forward—plagued by foul trouble all game—led his team in rebounds with nine.
In each loss throughout this streak, the Canes have been outshot from three-point range. The Hokies rode a 9-19 stat line on three-point field goals to victory in a game that Miami shot just 12-33.
VT also out-rebounded Miami, but by just 28-27, impressive considering UM is down to just Ebuka Izundu at the center position.
In the first half, the Hurricanes led by as many as three points with 8:35 remaining until halftime.
The Hokies quickly responded with a 15-2 run to take a ten-point lead which killed any Miami hopes heading into the intermission.
With 9:46 to play, the VT led by 21, their largest margin of separation Wednesday.
Miami is tied with Notre Dame and Wake Forest in the cellar of the ACC. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech sits just a half-game behind North Carolina and Louisville in the loss column for a top-four position in the conference.
The schedule for UM doesn't get any easier, as the Canes travel to Charlottesville to take on the no. 3 Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday night.