The Miami Hurricanes took on the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday night in desperate need of an ACC win after a tough loss to Boston College Eagles earlier this week. Unfortunately, Miami was forced to play without Chris Lykes and Kam McGusty yet again, and were also without Earl Timberlake.
Miami played well in the first half. Louisville was held to 0-10 shooting from three in the half and the Hurricanes scored 20 points in the paint through drives and spreading the court that gave the Hurricanes a 33-21 lead halfway through the game.
Isaiah Wong was one of the key players in the first half for Miami. He had nine points and was relentless on the boards with five rebounds in the first 20 minutes. The Hurricanes rebounded extremely well in the first half, a big key to their success, with eight offensive rebounds despite having just seven scholarship players available.
The Hurricanes outhustled Louisville for the entire half, catching the Cardinals sleeping to score points in the paint and preventing them from getting comfortable on offense. The Cardinals shot just 35.7% from the field heading to the break.
Louisville started the second half playing better than they had throughout the first. The Cardinals got more active on defense and used that and a few nice interior plays on offense to cut Miami’s lead to 9 at 40-31 with 15:56 left in the game.
The Cardinals started to hit a rhythm after that and put together consecutive stops on defense that forced Miami into a timeout with 15 minutes left in the game and what was a 15 point lead cut to just a five point lead.
Jae’Lyn Withers hit a three to make it a one possession game out of the timeout, but the Hurricanes started to settle in offensively and adjust to keep the lead. Huge threes from Isaiah Wong and Matt Cross kept Miami in front and it resulted in Miami maintaining the five point lead with 10:38 left in the game.
Wong took control for Miami in the second half, hitting a contested three to put the Hurricanes up eight. He had a career-high 30 points on the evening along with seven rebounds and six assists. The Hurricanes would not have won without him and it is easily his best performance at Miami during his career so far.
The Hurricanes continued to control the pace of the game as it neared its end. Miami had 12 offensive rebounds, and used that and controlled offensive pace to run down the clock without letting Louisville get quick scores. By doing that, and with the help of a few Matt Cross threes, the Hurricanes led by seven with three minutes remaining in the game.
The Cardinals got the lead to within four off of a questionable foul call with two minutes left in the game. Fortunately Matt Cross responded for the Hurricanes to get Miami back to a seven point lead. A quick response from Louisville made it a five point game with 55 seconds left.
Nysier Brooks gave the Hurricanes a seven point lead off of two free throws. David Johnson responded with a three for Louisville and the Cardinals almost stole the ball from the Hurricanes before Isaiah Wong managed to get the ball out to Elijah Olaniyi who hit a layup to put Miami up 75-69. The Cardinals came back with a quick shot to make the score 75-71 with 10 seconds left. Louisville fouled Matt Cross on the ensuing inbound and after he made both free throws he put the game out of reach of the Cardinals. After two late free throws from UL, Miami won 78-72.
This was an absolutely huge win for a short-handed Miami team that desperately needed it. The Hurricanes handed Louisville their first conference loss of the season and got back to .500 on the year with the victory.
In addition to Isaiah Wong, Matt Cross was absolutely key to the Hurricanes’ victory. The freshman had 16 points, including a few clutch threes, and four rebounds to help the Hurricanes to their biggest win of the season. Elijah Olaniyi also had a great game; scoring 15 points and adding 10 rebounds to earn a double-double.
The Hurricanes, now 6-6, look ahead to their next game against Syracuse on Tuesday night. There’s a chance both Kam McGusty and Chris Lykes could return for Miami in that game. Both were game-time decisions against Louisville that were ruled out. That starts a stretch for the Hurricanes where two of their next four games are against below .500 teams. Adding Lykes and McGusty back to the rotation, along with Earl Timberlake, could set up the Hurricanes for a strong second half of the season.