Four nights after allowing 18 3-point field goals to Boston College, the Miami Hurricanes surprised some across the college basketball landscape with an impressive 78-72 win over the No. 16 Louisville Cardinals, snapping an 18-game losing streak over AP Top 25 ranked opponents.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong scored a career-high 30 points, senior guard Elijah Olaniyi and freshman forward Matt Cross combined for 31, and Miami (6-6, 1-5 ACC) defeated Louisville (9-2, 4-1 ACC) at the Watsco Center on Saturday night for the first time since January 2018.
Leading their Atlantic Coast Conference opponent by 12 at halftime, the Hurricanes never relinquished the lead in the second half, despite allowing the Cardinals to pull within one point with 13 minutes remaining. UM outrebounded the Cardinals 38-30, with 12 of those 38 being offensive rebounds.
“I thought our defense in the first half allowed us to have a 12-point lead at the half and I think that gave our guys some confidence,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Second half, it was a dog fight and we competed very hard. They [Louisville] did a great job coming back, but we had enough in us and made enough good offensive plays.”
Miami gave Louisville, who played its fourth ACC road game in five conference matchups, an early 6-2 lead. The Canes nonetheless sparked a 6-0 run that featured an alley-oop dunk from redshirt junior forward Deng Gak, his only basket on the night, to build a seven-point lead.
An 8-0 burst was added with five-and-a-half minutes before the intermission, as the Canes held the Cardinals to 0-of-10 3-point shooting in the first 20 minutes.
“Yesterday back in Louisville, our practice left a lot to be desired and it manifested itself tonight,” said Louisville head coach Chris Mack on his team’s mentality upon their arrival to Coral Gables, Fla. “Offensively at the beginning of the game, we set the tone the wrong way. Miami tries to crowd the lane, they’re big, but that can’t be the reason we don’t try. We’ve got to get the ball in there. We’ve got to force rotations, we’ve got to get guys out of position, we’ve got to get the ability to draw fouls.”
Trailing by 11 at the 18-minute mark of the second frame, Louisville initiated their own 13-4 run behind forward Jae’Lyn Withers’ seven points, after starting 7-of-7 from the floor.
Radford transfer guard Carlik Jones scored 17 of his 25 points after halftime as well, as the graduate eventually tallied 11 straight points for his ball club.
“He [Withers] hit a lot of outside shots,” senior center Nysier Brooks said. “[He’s] a good player but he just was able to spread the floor and bring me out of the paint.”
Wong matched Jones’ hot shooting, however, scoring 11 points in the final nine and a half minutes. The program’s leading scorer turned his right ankle in the second half when attempting a rebound in the paint yet did not leave the game, filling in well for the absent Chris Lykes (ankle) and Kameron McGusty (hamstring), who recently received a platelet-rich plasma injection and is nearing the end of his hamstring recovery.
“He’s an amazing kid,” said Brooks on the Wong’s ongoing impact offensively. “When I would go home from Cincinnati in the summertime and workout with their AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] team, the same stuff I would see him do on the AAU circuit is just high-level basketball now. He’s not shy to take [and make] those [big time] shots.”
Matt Cross, who shot 0-of-4 from 3-point territory at Boston College, flipped the script and poured in four of Miami’s eight triples, tying his career-high of 16 points. Brooks paced the Canes with 11 rebounds and chipped in eight points.
“That’s why we held them to 21 points in the first half,” Larrañaga said. “They had some very good open looks from three, but they missed them. Normally when players are more comfortable driving the ball to the basket, if they miss a couple of perimeter shots they just start attacking the rim. Nysier was there to clog the basket and get the rebounds, and all those defensive stops led to us having a 12-point lead at the half.”
Louisville applied full-court pressure with just over three minutes remaining, which forced Miami into relinquishing a layup off of a steal in the backcourt.
“We haven’t practiced against a press because we haven’t had enough guys to simulate it,” Larrañaga said. “Yesterday, we actually had 10 guys for the first time which was nice.”
The Canes were able to only allow three 3-point shots to the Cardinals, who attempted a total of 20 from the arc.
“We told the players we’ve been very good against 2-point shooting teams,” Larrañaga said. “Our strategy has been to try to take away the paint, which is where Louisville tries [to score]. We were fortunate that they didn’t make enough threes to make us stretch our defense out.”
Guard David Johnson, a potential future lottery pick in the NBA Draft, sunk a 3-point field goal with 45 seconds left to bring the score to 73-69. Jones also made a long 2-point jumper, but Louisville couldn’t shrink Miami’s lead to less than four as time ran out.
“The win was a great team win,” Brooks said. “Louisville played their heart out. They got to the paint, they did the best they could do, and we were just the team that came out on top tonight.”
Miami will hit the road to play Syracuse (7-4, 1-3 ACC), who lost to Pittsburgh on Saturday night, 96-76. The Canes and the Orange will tip off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday after Miami defeated Syracuse in overtime at home last March. The contest will be broadcast on the ACC Network.