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Canes Hoops: Miami’s Strong First Half Enough to Hold off Hokies

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Miami led big at the half with a still-shorthanded roster and rode the rest of the way to a big ACC win.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes partially escaped from a midseason injury bug Tuesday night, getting two key contributors back and riding their presence to a 71-61 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Watsco Center behind one of their best defensive performances of the season.

“We felt this was a very good team effort,” said coach Jim Larrañaga. “Four guys with double-figures, another guy with nine, we were able to outbound them 36-31...I thought we shared the ball much better tonight.”

“This one was huge for us,” said redshirt-junior Rodney Miller. “We had a tough streak of loses, we needed this for our confidence. Coach L has done a good job at keeping us together. He keeps reminding us ‘just get better.’”

Chris Lykes (groin) missed his second consecutive game Tuesday after not playing in Saturday’s loss at Carolina. Kameron McGusty however returned off the bench after being absent the same contest with back spasms, and Keith Stone (knee) made his first appearance for the Canes since a Jan. 4 loss to Duke. McGusty and Stone were still limited in their returns, combining for just three points. Larrañaga said that they were “rusty” in their first night back.

Virginia Tech’s 61 points is the lowest by a Hurricane opponent in Atlantic Coast Conference play this year and fewest among any opponent since Coppin State scored just 60 against UM on Dec. 21.

Miami (11-9, 3-7 ACC) did so by allowing just two Hokies to score at least 10 points.

“Tonight, our total emphasis was trying to contest their three-pointers, and trying to limit the number. We were able to do that. Some nights your game plan works, other nights, you try, your kids make great effort, but the other team has an answer,” said Larrañaga.

The Canes outshot Virginia Tech 49-41%, and 40-36% from beyond the 3-point stripe. Additionally, UM got easy points by getting to the free throw 16 times and making 13 of their shots from there.

DJ Vasiljevic had a team-high 18 points for the Canes, despite shooting just 2-8 from beyond the arc. Harlond Beverly also added 13 points and Isaiah Wong logged 10. Larrañaga lauded his freshman guards after the win.

“[Beverly and Wong] are growing into ACC guards. They’re getting more and more playing time. Harlond played 31 minutes tonight [and] Isaiah played 29. A very good all-around performance by both,” said Larrañaga.

“Certainly even without Lykes, they’ve got a number of kids who can score,” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Young.

Miller continued his breakout stretch of games in the first half Tuesday with 11 points, which was good for his fourth double-figure output in five matchups, but didn't make a reappearance in the box in the second. Miller did grab a game-high nine rebounds, while Sam Waardenburg had nine points.

“It’s funny how coaches make adjustments, [Virginia Tech’s] adjustment was to keep the ball out of [Miller’s] hands. They doubled-teamed him, made it tough on him, so he didn't get any shots [in the second half],” said Larrañaga.

For the Hokies, Tyrece Radford had a game-high 22 points to go along eight rebounds, and Landers Nolley added 14.

The win keeps the Canes afloat and out of last in the ACC, breaking a three-game losing streak against the Hokies entering the evening after losing three times in the season series a year ago.

Miami went on a 24-2 run over a 7:50 stretch of the opening half, earning a substantial lead that grew to as large as 22 points with four minutes until halftime. A Vasiljevic mid-range jump shot beat the first half buzzer and made the margin 44-25 as the teams went into the locker room.

It was the eighth point for the Australian senior in the first 20 minutes, which went with Wong’s own eight and Miller’s 11 to give UM some much-needed cushion.

Such separation came in handy in the second half, when the Hokies got within as much as four points of Miami in the final minute of the game, outscoring the Hurricanes 36-27 after the break. UM shot just 40% in the final 20 minutes, compared to 57.1% in the first half. A VT flagrant foul followed by two made Beverly free throws effectively put the game away for UM with just under 50 seconds on the clock.

“We always talk about having poise down the stretch of a close game. Even though we had some errors, we also made some very good plays at both ends of the court,” said Larrañaga.

Larrañaga and the Hurricanes are sure to take any win in the ACC. Miami is back on the road for a matchup at Pittsburgh at Noon Sunday, less than a month after dispatching the Panthers 66-58 on Jan. 12.