Turnovers sting Miami in heartbreaking 66-65 loss to Clemson

Clemson senior forward Aamir Simms scored 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Tigers, as Miami (4-4, 0-3 ACC) lost their first game of 2021 on Saturday at the Watsco Center 66-65.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong led the Hurricanes yet again with 13 points while senior guard Elijah Olaniyi and sophomore guard Harlond Beverly combined for 20. Their shared double-digit scoring was not enough to outlast Clemson (8-1, 2-1 ACC), who upset No. 18 Florida State at home on Tuesday evening.

Having won four of its first five games against Power Five opponents for the first time since 1934, Clemson opened the game shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond the arc. Miami also hit two 3-point field goals in the early minutes, eventually finishing the contest 7-of-17 from downtown.

“Very exciting game,” said Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga, who remains one win away from passing Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden with 664 wins. “They got themselves off to a terrific start, they led by 10, 19-9, after about seven or eight minutes. That forced us to make a lot of adjustments.”

The Tigers, the No. 24 ranked team until their mid-December loss at Virginia Tech, started off strong from the opening tip, leading 8-3 as Simms scored those first eight points. The Preseason All-ACC Team honoree later scored 15 points in the second half on 10-of-15 shooting for the game.

“Aamir Sims was just terrific,” said Larrañaga on the big man who only averaged 11.6 points per game entering the matchup. “When we played a bigger guy on him, he took us out on the perimeter and made threes. When we put a smaller guy on him, he took us into the post and scored. When we denied him well inside, he stepped out and drove the ball to the basket. He was clearly the MVP of the game.”

Clemson senior forward Jonathan Baehre, who has started this season for Clemson after undergoing knee surgery in January, contributed with five points in the first half to help push the Tigers ahead 21-9. The Canes later answered with a 12-2 run to head into the locker room ahead 34-32.

“We just wanted to play tough, we know how they defend,” said freshman guard Earl Timberlake who totaled 11 points. “We wanted to be strong with the ball, we were right there and made a mistake at the end and lost.”

Simms opened the second half with a layup, but Miami scored six straight points and extend their lead to the same number of figures off a Beverly three and an and-one from Olaniyi.

But Clemson retaliated, initiating a 9-2 scoring burst to regain the lead 43-42. Redshirt sophomore guard Nick Honor and freshman forward PJ Hall had seven points each, while sophomore guard Alex Hemenway recorded eight.

“We knew we would have opportunities to shoot threes,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “We just wanted to make sure our guys took good ones, and we found more ways to do that in the second half. We had a good mix of offense and played much better against Miami’s defense in the second half, and that won the game for us.”

The Tigers also outscored their opponent 20-16 in points off of turnovers, with UM turning the ball over 16 times. UM outrebounded Clemson 35-28.

The Canes completed a 7-0 run with just over 90 seconds remaining before Honor splashed a 3-point field goal and Simms banked in the game-winning, one-handed bank shot inside the paint.

“We actually called the play at the last time out because we felt like we got plenty of time,” Larrañaga said. “We set up our defense, we told them what we wanted to run. Unfortunately, we didn’t run it. We ended up getting it to Kam McGusty who I thought had a great situation on the side of the court, but they defended it well and forced a turnover.”

On the inbound from the other end of the court, Wong attempted a quick catch-and-shoot from the foul line with 0.3 seconds remaining but barely missed off the backboard. Miami finished the contest shooting 47 percent from the field while Clemson was 44 percent.

Miami also returned McGusty, who went out with a hamstring injury against Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 12. He scored nine points while coming off the bench, after being inserted into team shootarounds and practices.

“Definitely feel rejuvenated, feels good to be out there with the team,” McGusty said. “It’s a tough one tonight, can’t wait for Tuesday against North Carolina. We fought and I feel like we played good defense, we moved the ball well, and just came up short.”

The Hurricanes will face the North Carolina Tar Heels at home on Tuesday, while the Tigers will return to Littlejohn Coliseum and play the NC State Wolfpack.

“If you see the stats in the last two games, we had 17 assists today which is a really good stat for us,” Larrañaga said. “The problem is the 16 turnovers. It takes away opportunities for us to score and the last two possessions we turned the ball over, and those were critical mistakes.”

On playing the UNC Tar Heels, Larrañaga said, “I haven’t watched them much yet, but I know the Carolina system well and Roy Williams has a very talented team, a very big team.”

Miami and North Carolina will tip off at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.