In a game that could have punched the ticket to the Big Dance, the University of Miami Hurricanes came up short in its attempt to upset the high-caliber, No. 12 Louisville Cardinals.
The enthralling game ended 55-53.
“This conference is more like the Big East than I ever imagined,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after the game. “It’s wars every night, physical battles, great length and great size. It’s nothing like I pictured the ACC to be.”
Leading 53-52 with less than 50 seconds left to play, Miami fouled Louisville star forward Montrezl Harrell and sent him to the free throw line. Harrell made both free throw attempts to put the Cardinals up 54-53 with 35 seconds left.
Miami inbounded the ball and team captain Angel Rodriguez carried the ball up court. Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga called a timeout to set his team for the final possession. The shot clock and the game clock differed by just 0.6 seconds. Miami inbounded the ball and Rodriguez danced around the perimeter. He then passed to DeAndre Burnett who drove to the basket, but the freshman guard slipped and fell. Harrell gobbled up the loose ball and was quickly fouled by junior center Tonye Jekiri.
Harrell made one of two free throws and the Cardinals lead was 55-53. Larrañaga again called a timeout, with Miami’s tournament hopes possibly remaining in the balance. Burnett inbounded the ball to Rodriguez, who charged up court and attempted a three point basket. His attempt bounced off the front of the rim, and Miami lost 55-53.
Junior guard Sheldon McClellan again led the Hurricanes, providing 17 points for Miami on 7-13 shooting. McClellan has emerged as one of the premier guards in the nation, leading guards in Power Five conferences in shooting percentage for much of the season’s second half. Interestingly, McClellan, Miami’s best shooter, did not touch the ball on the Hurricanes’ final possession.
Rodriguez continued to struggle. He’s been fighting to find his form for much of ACC play, yet remains a stalwart in the starting lineup. Rodriguez shot 1-12 from the field and scored only five points.
Larrañaga has repeatedly chosen Rodriguez to shoot the ball in end-of-game situations, but the junior guard, unlike earlier in the season, has struggled. Rodriguez missed a point blank lay up against Wake Forest that would have tied the game, and missed his three point attempt at the end of regulation Saturday afternoon.
ACC leading rebounder Jekiri scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for the Hurricanes.
Freshman forward Omar Sherman, who received a spot start today in a counter to Louisville’s frontcourt size, opened the game with the Hurricanes’ first seven points. The 6-foot-8, 260 pound freshman possesses a rare combination of interior size and three-point shooting. Sherman finished, however, with just those seven points.
Miami raced out to a 13-3 advantage, causing coach Pitino to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. Miami dominated against Louisville’s vaunted NBA prospects Harrell and Chinanu Onuaku with its frontcourt of Sherman, Jekiri and transfer Ivan Cruz-Uceda. The trio combined for 14 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.
Miami played with an intensity seldom seen consistently all season, building off its blowout victory against Virginia Tech. Early on, Louisville had no defense for Miami’s offensive attack. Larrañaga’s squad opened 8-12 from the field, including 3-4 from three-point range.
Louisville’s full court pressure brought it back into the game, causing turnovers and bad decisions from Miami’s backcourt. After the 10-minute mark in the first half, Miami had seven turnovers.
With 1:51 left in the first half, Harrell rebounded a ball, and while inbounds, threw a ball that struck Hurricanes’ center Jekiri in the face. After the play, Jekiri, who was out of bounds, sat on the ground grimacing in pain. Harrell was assessed a flagrant one foul, which gave Jekiri two foul shots and Miami the ball.
At the half, Larrañaga’s team led 29-19. Miami held Louisville to just 24 percent shooting in the first half. NBA prospect Terry Rozier had a particularly tough time against Miami’s defense, shooting just 1-7 from the field in the first half.
Louisville opened the second half with a 17-3 run to lead 36-32. Miami could not match Louisville’s intensity early in the second half, giving up a plethora of offensive rebounds and second chances to the Cardinals.
Lousiville took its second lead of the second half with 3:05 to play in the game. Louisville guard Chris Jones shook Rodriguez, and converted a jumper from the elbow to put the Cardinals ahead 50-49.
Miami soon took the lead, after Burnett made a tough runner off the glass to put the Hurricanes ahead 51-50. Burnett, who was instrumental in Miami’s comeback against Boston College, again played well down the stretch for Larrañaga. Burnett has struggled to find playing time all season, often not playing entire games after the return of sophomore guard Davon Reed from injury in late December. Burnett finished the game with 9 points on 3-4 shooting, all in the second half.
Yet, it was Burnett’s turnover in the waning moments that may have handed Louisville the game. Miami played well enough to win against a quality team on the road Saturday afternoon, but turned the ball over 13 times and attempted just seven free throws all game.
Only four games remain in ACC play. It is essential Miami beats No. 15 North Carolina in Chapel Hill in order to make the NCAA, but the team must also win against Florida State, Pittsburgh and Virigina Tech in order to be considered for the NCAA tournament.