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Plenty Of Heart

Like Zach Johnson, Men’s Ball just keeps shooting

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Miami-Florida Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The ball clinks, clanks, spins around the rim, so close to going in. And falls out. That is exactly how the Miami Hurricanes’ basketball season has gone this year. A season that started with promise, a reloaded team with some exciting developing young guys and a big-time transfer in Zach Johnson. Dewan Hernandez was ready to take the next step forward as the best player of a sneaky good Canes squad. And in the blink of an eye, the hypocrisy and vengeful nature of the NCAA has helped to squeeze any hope of another tourney appearance out of this program.

While injuries and an invisible recruiting class has also contributed to the problem, the Miami Hurricanes are down to a bench of just seven players, including Anthony Mack, who, if Coach Larranaga had his way, likely would be a reserve player. And yet, despite the loss of Hernandez, Deng Gak and no new recruits, Miami has soldiered on and played their guts out each and every night.

This has been a season of so close and yet not enough. The decimated Canes took a powerful Tar Heels squad to OT, and likely should’ve won it before Luke Maye ripped their hearts out at the end of regulation. They were competitive against another top ACC team in their low scoring duel with Virginia. But Miami’s lack of depth and lack of options has been their undoing, despite solid coaching from the man on the sideline.

Against Clemson, Miami needed every bucket to squeak out just their third conference win in 12 tries. A neck and neck game the whole way, the Hurricanes got big performances from Dejan Vasiljevic, 22 points, and Chris Lykes, 21 points. FGCU transfer Guard Zach Johnson had a frustrating evening. Entering the final seconds, Johnson was just 1-8. He wasn’t a force driving to the basket this game, settling for five 3-pointers and missing all of them. But when Miami needed him most, after scoring four points through the first 39 minutes, Johnson came through.

Like this Canes team has done all season long, Johnson gave everything he had in the final seconds. Down one, seconds left, Johnson uses Ebuka Izundu’s screen to get closer to the bucket, hesitates, changes directions. Driving to the elbow, Johnson’s progress gets halted, losing his dribble, running out of time. With less than three seconds now left, the grad transfer, 1-8 on the night, gathers, rises over his defender, and shoots. The ball hits the backboard, then the front rim, rattles to the backboard and back rim, then finally drops in. 0.1 seconds left. Miami wins, 65-64.