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Hurricanes unable to complete 17-point comeback in 80-78 loss to Virginia Tech

Isaiah Wong and Matt Cross hit a handful of critical shots down the stretch, but No. 24 Virginia Tech was able to hold off Miami at Cassell Coliseum.

NCAA Basketball: Jacksonville at Miami-Florida
Hurricanes forward Matt Cross attempts a layup in front of Jacksonville guard Tyreese Davis during the second half on Dec. 19, 2020 at the Watsco Center (Coral Gables, Fla.).
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Tech forward Keve Aluma scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds as Miami suffered its second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season 80-78, the first game for the Hurricanes in nearly two weeks.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong and freshman forward Matt Cross each registered 16 points, while guard Harlond Beverly tallied 14, but the multiple double-digit scoring outings were not enough to overcome Miami’s second-half deficit to No. 24 Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0 ACC). The Hurricanes were still missing their starting backcourt in seniors Chris Lykes (sprained ankle) and Kameron McGusty (hamstring), who has begun practicing (shootarounds, team warmups, etc.) with the team, due to ongoing injuries.

“Our guys gave it everything they had,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said after his team cut the Hokies’ lead to one with 28 seconds remaining in the second half. “I thought that was a very well-played college basketball game between two serious competitors. Our players fought back from a double-digit deficit and had a shot to win the game. A lot of guys stepped up.”

Miami (4-3, 0-2 ACC) trailed at the half 42-33 and eventually fell behind by 17 points in the second half when Virginia Tech guard Tyrece Radford made a layup to give Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0 ACC) their largest lead of the game, 58-41. Senior transfer guard Elijah Olaniyi then hit a 3-point basket, allowing the ‘Canes to begin knocking down their perimeter shots.

“We got fouled a lot, but the way they defended us we could not drive the ball very well,” Larrañaga said. “In each timeout, I kept telling them we have to share the ball a little bit and move that defense better, and eventually we did that. It got some guys open; they made some good plays.”

Cross, who finished with a career-high 16 points, shot 4-of-6 from downtown, as Larrañaga said that he has been “practicing much better since the injection in his arm to relieve the pain of bursitis.”

Miami ignited an 8-0 scoring run in the second half off of a Cross three and five straight points from Wong. Both combined for 17 points in the final ten and a half minutes, forcing Virginia Tech to call a timeout with 5:43 left on the clock.

“Fortunate to win,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said on his team’s two-point victory. “Sometimes, I’ve played well and lost. I’d much rather prefer to play poorly and win the game, and we did that.”

Despite outrebounding Virginia Tech 34-28, the ‘Canes committed 19 turnovers in comparison to their opponent’s 11. UM also went to the foul line just ten times, hitting eight free throws.

“Us only shooting 10 free throws is not only a season low, but I can’t ever remember in the last couple of years only shooting so few free throws,” Larrañaga said.

“For us, it’s such a learning experience because our two leading scorers in Chris Lykes and Kam McGusty have been out,” Larrañaga said. “So, the other guys are stepping up and hopefully those other two guys will be back and can give us a much deeper team. I’m very pleased to see 10 for 25 from three. [We] shot 40 percent against a team that plays the pack defense.

“You play against a team that plays the pack defense; you almost certainly have to make some threes because if you don’t, it’s very, very hard to drive in there against them.”

Wong missed a 3-point shot with five seconds remaining that would have put his team ahead by one, as the ball bounced in-and-out.

“All in all, if you get kind of an open 3-point shot at the top of the key to win on the road against a Top 25 team, pretty much you’d take that,” Larrañaga said.

The ‘Canes have now lost three of their last four games, with their most recent win coming against Jacksonville of the Atlantic Sun conference. They continue to battle injuries with redshirt senior center Rodney Miller sidelined for the season and both Lykes and McGusty out for the near future.

Virginia Tech almost relinquished their second half lead due to inconsistent free throw shooting and two turnovers in the closing 90 seconds, but survived and have remained undefeated since their loss to Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in early December. The Hokies will take on No. 23 Virginia on Saturday in their first road game on the year.

Miami will return home to Coral Gables, Florida, on Saturday to host Clemson, who defeated No. 18 Florida State on Tuesday night at home. The game will be televised at 2 p.m. on the ACC Network Extra program.