Miami men’s basketball falls 73-68 to Virginia in ACC Tournament semifinals

WASHINGTON D.C. — It was a valiant effort, but it was too little too late for the Hurricanes, who fell to the Virginia Cavaliers 73-68 in the ACC Tournament semifinals at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

The No. 11 Canes (25-7, 13-6) trailed the entire game. As the contest came down the stretch, the Canes trailed 65-53 with two minutes to go. The Canes showed effort toward the end of the game that was non-existent for most of the night, as they were able to chip the UVA lead down to 71-68 with two seconds remaining.

Over the course of the season, the Canes proved that they can shoot the ball from beyond the arc, as they convert more than 36 percent of their threes. In the starting lineup alone, redshirt senior guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, along with junior guard Davon Reed are all consistent shooters. However, all three of the Canes’ starting guards failed to attempt a three-point shot in the first half. Head Coach Jim Larrañaga attributed the lack of perimeter shots to stagnant ball movement.

“The game plan was to spread them out and try to take advantage once we got some space of going to the basket. Normally when we do that, the driver will often draw help and kick it out for a three. As you see, we only had seven assists, which again is probably five or six or seven below our average,” Larrañaga said.

The No. 4 Cavs are the second best defensive team in the nation, allowing less than 60 points per game. They play a loose man-to-man defense, also known as the pack line defense, where defenders switch regularly. Their aggressive play out of the pack line defense was another key reason why the Canes could not manage to get consistent looks from deep. The Cavs ran Miami’s shooters off their marks, forcing the Canes to attempt to beat them by driving to the basket.

“I really like how our guys fought and battled. I asked them to have a warrior-like mentality heading into the game,” UVA Head Coach Tony Bennett said.

The Canes also struggled to handle the ball, as they committed 16 turnovers. Many of the turnovers came from the Canes rushing passes.

“I told the players it’s the John Wooden expression: Be quick, but don’t hurry. You don’t hurry a pass to a guy that you think is open because the pass is not as accurate,” Larrañaga said.

McClellan also thought the team’s turnover problems came from forcing passes.

“We just tried to make plays that wasn’t there tonight,” McClellan said.

The 16 turnovers hurt the Canes not only by losing possessions, but also by giving UVA easy buckets. Virginia converted the turnovers into 19 points.

“Any time we can get another team to turn the ball over that many times we try to capitalize on it. I think we did tonight,” UVA redshirt senior forward Malcolm Brogdon said.

Off the bench, sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton was key to the Canes remaining competitive in the game, as Rodriguez got into early foul trouble. Newton scored 19 points and dished out three assists.

Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, led the Cavs with 24 points, three rebounds and four assists.

The game started with Virginia getting out to a quick lead.

“We dug ourselves a quick hole. We were down 10 early,” Larrañaga said.

The Canes were able to cut the lead to five points heading into halftime, but the Cavs’ second half was too strong for a late Miami comeback attempt, pushing UVA into Saturday’s ACC Championship game against first-seeded North Carolina.

The Canes are expected to be a top seed in the NCAA tournament, but they will have to wait for Sunday to find their exact matchup.