For the fourth-straight time, the Miami Hurricanes played a game decided by three points or fewer, but also for the fourth consecutive time, they came out with a win.
Freshman guard Chris Lykes, who continues to be the fuel that ignites Miami since the injury to Bruce Brown Jr., scored 15 points, dished out a game-high seven assists and made the game-winning free-throw to lead the Canes past the Virginia Tech Hokies 69-68 in their regular season finale March 3 at the Watsco Center.
“I told the team that they are like the Cardiac kids … They somehow are enjoying being on the edge at the ends of these games,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I’ve coached for 46 years, and I can never remember four consecutive games ending on the final possession and winning all four. The guys did a tremendous job.”
Miami hit 11 3-pointers and made 48 percent of its shots. DJ Vasiljevic scored a team-high 16 points and made four 3-pointers, and Lonnie Walker IV added 12 points.
“Every time before the game, we just say, ‘Poise down the stretch,'” Lykes said. “I think those past games have helped us out to know that we can come back no matter what the score is at that time.”
Virginia Tech came out on fire in the first half, hitting six 3-pointers and leading by as many as 12 points, but UM went on a 12-0 run early in the second half to take its first lead and shift the momentum.
The Hokies fought right back to tie the game twice and take a 68-66 lead with 1:13 remaining in the contest.
But the Canes kept their composure and closed the game out with a contested mid-range jumper by Lonnie Walker IV to tie it and then with the Lykes free-throw to win it with just three seconds left.
“At the beginning of the season, it was hard to figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Walker said. “Now that we are going into the ACC Tournament, we know how to play with each other so well. We are clicking at the right time, and the confidence has carried over.”
With the victory, the Hurricanes (22-8, 11-7 ACC), who have won four-straight, move into sole possession of fifth place in the ACC standings and have a chance to move up to as high as third depending on the results of the Clemson and North Carolina games later Saturday afternoon. UM has already clinched a first-round bye and can secure a double-bye, which would require it finish in the top four of the conference, barring the results of those games.
With the loss, the Hokies (21-10, 10-8 ACC) fall to seventh place in the conference but can move up or down in the rankings depending on the results of the North Carolina State and the Louisville games.
“The way they started in the second half was the difference in the game,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Miami. “They have really good players. If you look at the last five games, those two guys [Lykes and Walker] have led the way.”
Guard Justin Robinson, one of five Virginia Tech players that average double-figure scoring, had 18 points to lead the Hokies.
The ACC Tournament starts Tuesday, March 6, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Miami’s opponent and the date of its first game is to be decided.
“Confidence is a huge part of success – believing in yourself,” Larrañaga said. “I believe our guys have developed a lot of confidence in themselves and in their teammates. I think they are enjoying playing.”
LYKES GETTING HIGH PRAISE
Since the injury to Bruce Brown Jr. 10 games ago, Lykes has been Miami’s leading scorer, putting up 13.8 points per game.
“You see what Chris Lykes does for us,” Larrañaga said. “I hope he wins Sixth Man of the Year. I think that would be terrific and certainly something he would have earned.”
CANES CUTTING IT CLOSE
For the third-straight time, the game came down to the final shot for the Hurricanes.
BOTH TEAMS COMING OFF BIG WINS
Miami and Virginia Tech came into the game tied for fifth place in the ACC standings, along with N.C. State. Both teams were coming off close wins against ranked opponents – the Canes made a 3-point buzzer beater to beat the No. 9 Tar Heels by three, and the Hokies made a game-winning put-back layup to defeat the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils by one point.
VIRGINIA TECH WITH SOMETHING TO BE PROUD ABOUT
Along with a victory against Duke, V-Tech, which led 39-32 at halftime against Miami, has wins against Virginia – the only ACC team to beat the Cavaliers – UNC and Clemson on its resume.