One of the best men’s basketball seasons in Miami history ended with a wholly distorted view of the 2015-16 Hurricanes. Success became disappointment, effort turned into apathy and joy morphed to anger in Miami’s 92-69 loss to Villanova in the Sweet 16 Thursday night in Louisville, Kentucky.
The No. 3 seed Hurricanes never led in the game that finished their season and the UM careers of Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda. McClellan (26) and Rodriguez (13) led the team in scoring, as they did all year, but the two of them can’t beat the No. 2 seed by themselves. Jekiri, Miami’s defensive anchor all season, was often tied to the bench and ended his collegiate career earlier than the others after picking up his fifth foul with 2:24 remaining.
The Wildcats (32-5) took the lead a minute in and never looked back, keeping their eyes focused on the Elite Eight appearance that awaits them. Miami failed to match Villanova’s intensity, hustle and shot making. The Wildcats shot a blistering 62.7 percent from the field, outrebounded Miami 27-17 and had 17 assists to UM’s 12.
The Hurricanes (27-8) trailed by just six at halftime, but they quickly fell behind by double-digits to start the second half and never recovered. McClellan and Jekiri were limited by early foul trouble, and Villanova simply couldn’t miss. Four of Villanova’s starters scored in double-digits while Miami only had two in the redshirt senior guards, Rodriguez and McClellan.
The Wildcats led 43-37 at halftime, the most points allowed in a first half all season by Miami. Villanova went up 29-14 nearly 12 minutes into the game, but McClellan and Rodriguez got the Canes back in it with a 12-0 run on four consecutive threes. Miami and Villanova put on a three-point shooting exhibition in the first half, going a combined 13-of-19 from behind the arc. Miami at 67 percent and Villanova at 64 combined for the best shooting percentage by two teams in any half of the tournament.
The Canes turned the ball over far too often against Villanova’s trapping defense. Miami had seven turnovers not even 12 minutes into the game and eight for the half. Guard Ryan Arcidiacono capitalized on the early turnovers, scoring 13 points in the first nine minutes. Miami held him scoreless the rest of the half while Rodriguez took over and led the Canes with 10 points at the break.
The Canes also finally received a boost from their bench with freshman forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. and sophomore guard James Palmer combing for 10 points at halftime. Miami had 12 total bench points in the first two games of the tournament – all from sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton.
Miami has never made the Elite Eight. That won’t change this year, but that doesn’t nullify a season that included a Sweet 16 appearance, a No. 10 ranking to end the regular season and a record 17 consecutive weeks ranked in the polls. The Hurricanes will be back next season, and with a top-10 recruiting class on the way this fall.