Fresh off of an upset win over the Duke Blue Devils on Monday night, the Miami Hurricanes thought they had secured another over No. 16 Virginia Tech. They were seeking redemption having lost to the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum, 80-78, earlier this season.
Yet the whirlwind of surprises continued for the injury-plagued Canes on Saturday afternoon at the Watsco Center, as Virginia Tech guard Hunter Cattoor connected on four 3-point shots with the fourth being the one that sent the ball game to overtime.
Senior guard Chris Lykes, who has appeared in only two games this season, was sidelined as he nears the end of his ongoing recovery from a left ankle sprain. Freshman guard Earl Timberlake (left shoulder) missed his 11th game on the season having been listed as out indefinitely on Jan. 24.
Guards Isaiah Wong and Elijah Olaniyi scored 19 points each, Kameron McGusty added 18, though the scoring efforts of the backcourt trio were not enough for Miami (7-11, 3-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) to pick up a win, falling 80-76 against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies (14-4, 8-3 ACC) clamped down on defense in the final three minutes of regulation, despite allowing Wong to sink a contested triple on the left wing with two seconds remaining. Cattoor, who finished with 14 points, answered with a wide-open three on the left wing to tie the contest with no time left, despite controversy over whether the sharpshooter stepped out of bounds on the far sideline.
“I thought we had it, 1.7 seconds left, we’re up three, and someone just told me the guy who made the shot [Cattoor] stepped out of bounds,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I know there were several very close calls at the end and sometimes you got to really catch a break to win a game like that. But both teams deserve a lot of credit, I thought our guys did a great job.”
Forward Justyn Mutts led Virginia Tech in the scoring, rebounding, and assist columns, recording 22 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Keve Aluma, who averaged 17.7 points per game and 7.7 rebounds, ignited the Hokies’ scoring attack with seven-straight points in the opening minutes, nonetheless.
Both teams would trade baskets through the first half with neither sparking a run of five points or greater, as Miami shot 11-of-27 from the field and Virginia Tech went 12-of-28. McGusty and Aluma matched each other with 11 points in the first 20 minutes, while Mutts and Olaniyi had eight apiece, and the Canes trailed 31-28 at the half.
Wong, Miami’s second-highest scorer versus Duke with 16 points, experienced a tale of two halves offensively. The Piscataway, N.J., native logged just three in the first frame and erupted for 16 in the second.
“I think all of our guys played very hard and well,” Larrañaga said. “I thought the first half defense by both teams was sensational. That’s the best defense any time has played on Isaiah Wong all season. But Isaiah got it going in the second half and I thought finished very strong. They kept doubling up on him and he kept finding the open man, and then when he got it back, he started to attack. But he’s getting a lot of attention, that means someone else’s open, and Elijah’s been the recipient of a lot of good passes.”
The Hokies, however, countered with a 9-0 run of their own by the eight-minute mark, as guard Wabissa Bede sunk a three and Mutts scored two layups to widen the spread to 11, 59-48.
The Canes were not done either, as Wong scored six straight points from three foul shots and a three of his own. McGusty poked the ball loose and scored a breakaway layup.
“I’m glad with the way we played, I’m glad with the way we fought,” McGusty said. “We got down in the second half [and] rallied back.”
Guard Nahiem Alleyne ended the Hokies’ scoring drought of two and a half minutes, though Olaniyi made three consecutive free throws to slice the Miami deficit to one. Wong later knocked down a three and center Nysier Brooks dunked along the baseline to put the Canes ahead by two points.
“We all tried to stay calm and tried to focus on what they were trying to do,” Wong said. “I give credit to Virginia Tech; they have a lot of set plays and all their plays are good. They’re always a hard team to go against. They started out with great defense but our team, we just got through it. Throughout the game we played with just the same energy as them and we played as hard as they did.”
Aluma appeared to have an uncontested layup on the right block with 57 seconds left, until Olaniyi extended up to block the forward’s scoring attempt. A foul was called on the Stony Brook transfer, nonetheless, as Aluma made both free throws to give the Hokies the lead, 71-70.
Wong hit a contested 3-point field goal on the left wing to push Miami ahead 74-71, leaving only two seconds on the clock. But Cattour’s shot could not have come at a better time for Virginia Tech.
“Just a great college basketball game, can’t complain,” McGusty said. “Every time we match up with Virginia Tech it’s always one of those games where we go back-and-forth or end up in overtime. It’s just unfortunate, can’t really control that [and] can’t really control the other team’s shooting.”
Miami second-half scoring burst did not sustain itself in overtime, a story seen far too frequently for Larrañaga and his shorthanded program this winter. Virginia Tech held Miami to two points in the extra five minutes.
“I think fatigue is a factor because guys are playing so hard,” Larrañaga said. “The length of the game, an extra five minutes obviously is more challenging. But it’s the same for the opponent, it’s not like they played eight or 10 guys. They played seven guys, eight guys, and I thought [we] executed very well. We were down 11 and we switched to a 2-3 zone and tried to trap them out of it to change the tempo and that seemed to work.”
Disheartened once again in the final minutes, Miami will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face North Carolina (11-6, 6-4 ACC) on Monday night. Guard Andrew Platek sent the Canes packing with a floater over two defenders to help the Tar Heels escape with the victory in Coral Gables, Fla.
“I feel like we’re very prepared,” McGusty said. “Coach L always has a great game plan for us in terms of teams we play, and we know their consistency in the paint. They’ve got really good bigs and that’s what will be the majority of their scoring.”
The Canes and Tar Heels will tip off from the Dean E. Smith Center at 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.