A rough week only got rougher for the Miami Hurricanes on Wednesday evening.
Just two days after Dewan Hernandez was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, which prompted Hernandez to withdraw from the University of Miami and turn pro, the short-handed Hurricanes were no match for No. 12 Virginia Tech.
The Hokies controlled play from start to finish and defeated the Hurricanes 82-70 at the Wastco Center, handing Miami its fourth consecutive loss.
Yet, despite the loss, UM coach Jim Larrañaga was pleased with his squad, particularly after the intermission. The Hurricanes (9-11, 1-7 ACC) cut a 21-point Hokies’ lead to just 10 points in the closing minutes of the contest.
“There was a time in the second half that I thought we played our best basketball for about a six- to seven-minute period,” Larrañaga said. “Things we want to do, every day, every game. Play hard on the defensive end of the floor, get stops, share the ball on offense, find the open man, penetrate and pitch, get touches, get everybody involved.”
Chris Lykes, who shot 0-for-12 against Florida State on Sunday, bounced back with a team-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The 5-foot-7 point guard echoed what Larrañaga said.
“With 6:06 left in the second half, Coach L got pretty fired up, told us what he’s been telling us all season, and for some reason we started to do it,” Lykes said. “We were getting easy, easy looks, open shots. I felt like that was some of the best basketball that we were playing throughout this year. We need to find a way to do that for 40 minutes. Sometimes out of losses, good things happen.”
Anthony Lawrence II fell one rebound shy of a double-double, notching 15 points and nine boards. Although, Larrañaga expressed concern for Lawrence, who injured his hip. Fellow guard Zach Johnson rolled his ankle, but returned to score 10 points.
The Hurricanes couldn’t slow down Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Alexander-Walker scored 25 points, dished out five assists and forced six steals. The Canadian standout connected on 11-of-17 attempts from the floor.
“He’s a first-round pick,” Larrañaga said of Alexander-Walker. “He can score. He can shoot the three. He can drive. He works hard defensively. He’s similar to Lonnie Walker.”
Ahmed Hill tallied 19 points, joining Alexander-Walker in double-figures. Guard Justin Robinson chipped in 17 points before limping off the court after landing awkwardly with just over 13 minutes to go in the game. Robinson did not return.
Virginia Tech (17-3, 6-2 ACC) shot a scorching 68 percent in the second half and 59 percent for the game.
“They have a lot of terrific 3-point shooters,” Larrañaga said. “Robinson reminds me of Shabazz Napier. He can carry his team and deliver the ball to the right guy while he is still scoring.”
Miami kept it tight for much of the first half, thanks to the early efforts of Lykes. The sophomore scored seven points in the game’s first ten minutes.
However, Virginia Tech used a 15-3 run to close the first half, giving the Hokies a 34-27 at the break. VT built on its advantage immediately out of halftime, gaining a 21-point advantage.
The Hurricanes travel to Charlottesville, Virginia to face the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.
“It’s a challenge,” Johnson said. “We got to listen to the game plan that Coach L and the assistant coaches got for us and execute it to the best of our abilities.”