Survive and advance.
The Miami Hurricanes took the catch phrase quite literally at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Friday evening as they defeated the USC Trojans in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA tournament, 68-66.
Chatter entering this matchup was how Miami would be dominated by the size of USC, whose average starting lineup height is 6’6’’, measuring five inches taller than Miami’s starting five. However it was Miami’s guard play who got the best of the Trojans, despite being out rebounded 38-26.
Led by Isaiah Wong’s game high 22 points on 7 of 12 shooting, Miami controlled the pace of the entire first half. Wong scored the first 13 points for the Canes while USC had no answer for the Piscataway, New Jersey native. With all of his production coming without a made three point basket, Wong also chipped in with four rebounds, one assist, and a steal, hitting eight of nine free throws.
Defensively, it was the 6’10’’ Sam Waardenburg who set the tone for the 10-seed Canes with two blocks within the first two minutes of play. The senior forward finished with four blocks, all coming in the first half.
Jim Larrañaga’s small-ball, four-guard lineup was stepping big for Miami defensively with crisp defensive rotations taking away USC’s ability to establish any position near the basket.
They forced the Trojans into 8-27 shooting by making them take shots late in the shot clock, including 2-9 shooting from beyond the arc, while turning the ball over on 12 occasions, and going on a scoring drought that lasted 5:30 in the first half.
The men of Troy were down by as much as 13 points, and went into the break trailing Miami 31-20.
But Andy Enfield’s team did not down without a fight. USC fought on, storming out of the gates to open the second half on a 15-2 run, including two made three pointers from Isaiah Mobley, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds. He was held to three points and three rebounds below his season average.
Reese Dixon-Waters was key throughout the run and the second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points in 28 minutes for USC.
Enfield decided to start the Dixon-Waters at the half in place of Boogie Ellis who only played 14 minutes.
Miami had yet to connect on a three point attempt and with Wong having to exit the game with four fouls, momentum was shifting in favor of the Trojans.
With Wong out, Charlie Moore was the go-to guy for the Canes. His decision making and defensive play is what forced the decision by Enfield to sit his starting point guard.
Hitting on Miami’s first three point attempt with 5:47 to play, Moore and the Canes began to turn up the heat in the clutch.
A Chevez Goodwin jumper gave USC the lead momentarily after Moore’s three, but Miami never looked back after Moore found Sam Waardenburg in the paint for an easy lay-in with 4:26 to play.
Moore took the over the reigns slicing and dicing his way into the teeth of the USC defense and forced a Trojans timeout after getting into the lane again for a layup and a 57-54 Canes lead.
Miami was clutch at the line connecting on 19-25 free throws, but it was their ability to force USC into 18 total turnovers - 12 off steals, that was crucial in the win.
With the Hurricanes losing the battle on the boards 38-26, they were successful in limiting their turnovers to only three for the entire game.
USC would not fold with the Canes up 64-58 and 44 seconds to play.
Drew Peterson (17 points) closed the gap to 65-64 after nailing his second of back to back three pointers, following a Charlie Moore turnover as he stepped out of bounds in front of the USC bench while trying to evade the Trojans pressure on an inbound pass.
A foul on Isaiah Mobley sent Waardenburg to the line where he made the second of two free throws, giving Miami a 66-64 lead.
Following a Drew Peterson layup with 14 seconds left, the game was tied again. But a foul on Ethan Anderson sent Charlie Moore to the line with three seconds remaining in regulation, where he made both attempts.
With one last gasp, it was a Drew Peterson half-court heave that hardly missed off teh backboard, ending the game.
The Hurricanes found a way to overcome a 12 rebound deficit and 1-14 shooting from three, to beat the Trojans and advance to play the Auburn Tigers on Sunday.
Points: Wong 22, Moore 16, McGusty 12
Rebounds: McGusty 6, Miller/Wong 4
Assists: Moore 4
Steals: Miller/Moore 4
Points: Peterson 17, Dixon-Waters 16, Mobley 11
Rebounds: Goodwin 6, Mobley, Agbonkpolo/Peterson 5
Assists: Mobley 8
Steals: Ellis 1