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Wong and Timberlake spearhead Miami in first ACC win on season

Jim Larrañaga and his program won their first conference matchup behind 37 combined points from Isaiah Wong and Earl Timberlake on the road versus NC State.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami-Florida
Hurricanes forward Anthony Walker explodes for a dunk on North Carolina forward Armando Bacon during the second half at the Watsco Center on Jan. 5, 2020. (Coral Gables, Fla.).
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes were beyond desperate for a win in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday, having lost their previous three games by five points or fewer.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, freshman guard Earl Timberlake scored 13 points, and Miami (5-5, 1-4 ACC) secured their first ACC win of the 2020-2021 season, defeating NC State (6-3, 2-2 ACC) 64-59.

The Canes were once again without starting guards in Chris Lykes (ankle) and Kameron McGusty (hamstring), who both remained on the sidelines at PNC Arena (Raleigh, N.C.). They, however, completed an 8-0 scoring run by the last minute of the second half while holding the Wolfpack to eight points in the final six minutes. NC State outrebounded UM, 38-30, however.

“We’ve been in some really tight games, our guys have fought valiantly, and today we were able to finish,” said Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga, who passed Hall of Fame coach John Wooden with 665 wins on Saturday. “We made some key defensive stops; we made some key free throws. NC State is a really, really good team and they’ve won some really good games here, so hopefully this is a real confidence booster for us.”

The Wolfpack opened the contest on a 14-2 run, fueled in part by redshirt junior Thomas Allen’s five straight points. Miami would then score six in a row, though both programs would trade baskets for the remainder of the first half with NC State’s lead not extending past four points.

“For whatever reason, I didn’t think we were clicking offensively,” said NC State head coach Kevin Keatts, whose team did not reach its expected 60-point plateau. “We’ve got to get better. This is one of those games where usually we play a little better on the offensive end, but we just couldn’t get going. Very seldom does it happen with us in two different halves, but typically we could find it in the second half, but we did not have it today.”

Wong led the Canes with 11 points before halftime, while Allen tallied eight. Both Timberlake and Wong committed two fouls in the first half, while redshirt senior DJ Funderburk, senior Devon Daniels, and redshirt sophomore Manny Bates picked up two each.

Trailing 32-31 to start the second half, Miami would allow a Bates dunk before Wong and Timberlake sparked a 9-2 run to take the lead by four, 40-36. Daniels, however, would score six of the Wolfpack’s 11 straight points later, as the Canes would endure a seven-and-a-half-minute scoring drought. NC State would not be able to close Miami’s door, however.

“We scored 11 [straight] points, and we still didn’t reach 60,” Keatts said. “This was one of those games where offensively we could not get going at all. It’s a little disappointing the way we played on the offensive end. I think a lot of times with teams a lot of other areas will suffer when you’re not scoring the basketball, and I thought our energy level was really low.”

Unlike their recent heartbreaking loss to North Carolina, Miami would match NC State with an 8-0 run of their own. Wong would make a driving layup over multiple Wolfpack defenders, while Timberlake converted on two foul shots as just over a minute ticked down.

“Earl is a competitor, he plays very hard,” Larrañaga said. “We need some additional scoring without Chris Lykes and Kam McGusty. We’re not really a 3-point shooting team anymore, and we needed to figure out how to get Earl the ball where he could do some damage. Everything he did in the second half was really right by the rim. He had a great offensive rebound basket right at the end. Everything he does successfully around the basket gives us another way to score the ball.”

Allen hit a 3-point field goal to cut the Canes’ lead to 58-57, though Timberlake’s tip-in layup and his additional two free throws put the ballgame away with Miami leading by seven with the same amount of time left.

The Hurricanes defeated the Wolfpack for the first time since January 2018, when they scored 50 points in the second half and won by five in Raleigh, N.C. as the No. 25 ranked team in the nation. Their first win in conference play all season would come down to a heavy amount of detail.

“Last night in our meeting, everything [that] was talked about was attention to details, that details matter,” said Larrañaga, who misspelled every one of his player’s names on their whiteboard by one letter with a purpose. “We just changed one letter or deleted a letter [which] just made a difference, and that’s what details mean. You have to do the little things well correctly in order to be successful. I thought today I thought we executed the details down the stretch in the last four to five minutes really well.”

Miami will continue their brief road trip and travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Tuesday and play Boston College (2-8, 0-4 ACC).

NC State, on the other hand, will face Florida State (5-2, 1-1 ACC) in Tallahassee, Fla., on Wednesday night. The Wolfpack, who failed to upset No. 19 Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum in overtime on Tuesday, have now lost two consecutive conference games.

The Hurricanes and Eagles will tip off from Conte Forum at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The game will be broadcast on your regional sports network.