Depth-less Miami falls to Wake Forest, loses third consecutive ACC contest

Photo credit: Twitter, @CanesHoops

Six student-athletes remained available for the Miami men’s basketball team in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. That did not stop Wake Forest from capitalizing on their opponents’ depleted rotation, though.

Wake Forest guards Daivien Williamson and Jalen Johnson combined for 31 points, forward Isaiah Mucius added 13 and Wake Forest (5-7, 2-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) defeated Miami (6-10, 2-9 ACC) 66-54 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong left the contest with two minutes remaining in the second half after appearing to twist his right ankle. Senior guards Chris Lykes (ankle) and Elijah Olaniyi (shoulder) remained sidelined, while freshman guard Earl Timberlake (shoulder) missed his third-straight game. The Hurricanes were also without standout freshman Matt Cross, who was dismissed from the program last week for undisclosed reasons.

The Demon Deacons instilled a 15-0 run in the first half behind 10 points from Williamson, who entered the afternoon averaging 13.5 points per game, a team best. Starting guard Ian DuBose, a Houston Baptist transfer, did not play (medical), and forward Tariq Ingraham had been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to an ongoing recovery against COVID-19.

“Wake Forest earned the victory,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We, obviously, are very beat up and don’t have a lot of weapons right now, so I was proud of the effort we gave in the second half. I thought we did some good things to kind of put ourselves in a position to go on a run, but we just didn’t have enough offense to complete the plays.”

Unlike its previous games, Miami opened with a solid shooting performance, converting on three of its first five attempts. Wake Forest, on the other hand, only hit one of its first 12 shots and remained scoreless for the first four minutes.

That changed, however, when Williamson drained two consecutive threes and Johnson, guard Carter Whitt and forward Isaiah Mucius joined the 3-point shooting club, hitting a triple each on the team’s 15-0 scoring burst to lead 20-13.

“We can’t get into a running game with anyone,” Larrañaga said. “We’re so shorthanded guys we’re exhausted trying to play as hard as they could, but they get worn out. We have six scholarship players and basically a walk-on (guard Willie Herenton) who’s in the rotation now.”

The Hurricanes finished the game with nine 3-point field goals, a season rarity that senior guard Kameron McGusty, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point mark, sparked early for the injury-plagued Canes.

“Our 3-point shooting today was a little bit better because Kam McGusty’s back,” Larrañaga said. “He makes a couple of threes early and that gives Isaiah Wong the thought that ‘Hey we’re shooting threes well.’ Deng Gak makes one, and then all of the sudden, we’ve got a number of different guys [making 3-point shots].”

Trailing 34-24 at halftime after Wong’s buzzer-beating, 3-point field goal, both teams tacked on two points before neither scored for three minutes. The fatigue had begun to manifest itself despite the brief break.

“It was especially difficult at halftime,” Larrañaga said on the team’s emotional difficulties over the course of the game. “We just couldn’t get anything going offensively, and the players tend to evaluate themselves on their offense, not on their defense. We’re not able to sustain anything, either defensively or offensively or rebounding the ball. I thought Wake Forest played the ball screens differently than anybody that we’ve played, and we had to make a bunch of adjustments in the first half, none of which worked.”

Gak, who started in place of senior center Nysier Brooks, put his team back on the board with a dunk assisted by Harlond Beverly to end the scoring drought.

“Deng’s actually the only player on our team who hasn’t started [before Saturday],” Larrañaga said. “We gave him an opportunity. He’s been playing more minutes and playing better. He gives us a rim protector [since] he can block some shots and get some defensive rebounds. He’s also a good target for us to throw the ball to. I like the way he’s playing right now,” Larrañaga said.

The Canes and the Demon Deacons traded baskets for the remainder of the half, as Wake Forest was able to outshoot Miami from distance, shooting 13-of-29 on 3-point field goals. Wake Forest also out-rebounded UM 39-30.

Wake Forest held its visitors to only eight points in the final four minutes, as forward Ody Oguama made a jump shot to widen the margin to 15, 64-49. Walker scored five straight points, though the Canes could not trim the lead to single digits.

Miami now will prepare for Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewszki and the Duke Blue Devils (7-5, 5-3 ACC), who slaughtered Clemson 79-53 on Saturday.

“It’d be very, very nice to be full-strength, but we know that’s not gonna happen,” Larrañaga said. “But we’ve got to get ready for Monday night. We’re playing on Big Monday on ESPN against Duke University and they’ve been playing better these last couple of games, and they’re always a threat to have a great game. They’ve got so many talented players.”

The Canes and the Blue Devils will tip off at 7 p.m. on Monday night at the Watsco Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.