In search of their first conference win since edging the Duke at home on Feb. 1, the Hurricanes returned home to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, hoping to kindle any ounce of momentum with the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season coming to a close.
Similar to other blowout losses, Miami’s shorthanded rotation only hindered its performance on the hardwood for its biggest deficit loss of the season.
Guards Chris Lykes (ankle) and Harlond Beverly (back) remain sidelined for an indefinite amount of time, while leading scorer Isaiah Wong left the game with an ankle injury and did not return in the second half.
Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe scored a season-high 29 points, Jose Alvarado added 16, and the Yellow Jackets (11-8, 7-6 ACC) overwhelmed Miami (7-13, 3-12 ACC) 87-60 on 57 percent shooting at the Watsco Center.
Fueled by a 12-0 scoring run from the opening tip, Georgia Tech’s offensive attack kicked into high gear. Devoe, the fifth-leading scorer in the ACC, made two-straight 3-point shots barely two minutes into the game, while Alvarado added two layups in a row, forcing Miami to call a quick timeout. Georgia Tech outrebounded UM 35-26.
“Obviously Georgia Tech was really, really good right from the very start,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We knew their change of defenses was going to bother us. We really don’t have a point guard right now without Chris Lykes, without Harlond Beverly. So, we had to make some changes and put Isaiah at the point which is certainly not his natural position. He can play that at times, and we have gone to him in that position but not to start the game and not against the changing defenses.”
The Yellow Jackets, who shot 63 percent in the first half, capitalized off of the Canes’ five early turnovers, scoring 15 points off of those mistakes to widen the margin to 19 by the 12-minute mark.
“Lack of focus,” said forward Deng Gak on the team’s inability to maintain a close contest. “I think we had eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, but the coaches emphasized that they like to reach and get a lot of steals.”
Miami, on the other hand, only scored 18 points on 28.6 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes. Sophomore forward Anthony Walker led the team with five points at halftime, while Wong, the team’s leading scorer (17.4 points per game), scored only four.
“It’s not easy,” Gak said on the decision loss. “Credit to Georgia Tech, they came out more ready than we were today. But the locker room is the same as it’s always been, we’re going to keep competing. We got competitors on this team, we just came out very lackadaisical, and Georgia Tech threw a knockout punch in the first half.”
Trailing by 30 points at the start of the second half, a similar pattern resembled for the Canes who allowed Devoe five points in the first two minutes. Senior center Nysier Brooks scored six of Miami’s first eight points in the second frame, though the Yellow Jackets sparked a 6-0 run to maintain their almost-insurmountable halftime advantage.
“Anytime where the team doesn’t win, my performance doesn’t really matter to me to be honest,” said Nysier Brooks, who totaled 12 points in the afternoon.
Despite Brooks’ 10-point showing in the second half, the team knew more production could have been seen from the Cincinnati transfer.
“Our goal before the game was to post-feed to Nysier Brooks a lot because their defense is spread out and we wanted to give Nas a chance to score or hit some cutters,” Larrañaga said. “I think he did that in the second half, we just didn’t get him the ball in the first half.”
Miami only committed three second-half turnovers as opposed to its 12 beforehand. Walker continued to contribute with 11 points in the second half, though senior guard Elijah Olaniyi carried the scoring load having tallied 14 as the Canes began to find some scoring rhythm.
“First of all, obviously everybody’s discouraged,” Larrañaga said. “It’s not like you can keep them from being discouraged when you’re down 30 at the half. It’s very hard when you don’t have the right pieces in the right places.
So, right now there’s really nothing we can do. What I told them after the game was we did a much better job of not turning the ball over in the second half, which allowed us to get some of the baskets that we’d planned on getting.”
Having only played six scholarship players in Saturday’s loss, Miami remains in hope of a miracle similar to its Duke win. The Canes will face Florida State (12-3, 8-2 ACC), a No. 16 ranked team that has won seven of its last eight ACC matchups and remains a Final Four contender in the NCAA Tournament.
“We got FSU on Wednesday, we’re just trying to refocus and come out with another strategy, and win the next game,” Brooks said.
Miami and Florida State will tip-off at 8:30 p.m. from the Watsco Center. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.