Against all odds, Hurricanes survive Clemson and advance to ACC tournament quarterfinals

Miami's Isaiah Wong is guarded by Clemson's Nick Honor during an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.
Miami's Isaiah Wong is guarded by Clemson's Nick Honor during an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Photo credit: Robert Willett, News Observer

After the win over Boston College on Senior Night, Miami starting center Nysier Brooks said that “crazy things can happen in March” and something crazy might just be happening for Miami this March.

Coming off their worst season in 27 years and still having only six available scholarship players, the Hurricanes were able to survive a 79-73 battle in the first round against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

And despite being the underdogs in the second round versus the No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers, Miami became the first No. 13 seed in ACC tournament history to reach the quarterfinals when the Canes pulled off an 67-64 upset over the Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“That’s a great win for us,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Our guys played their hearts out. I’m really proud of them.”

The game seemed to be a battle of two different styles of play. Clemson (16-7, 10-6 ACC) outscored Miami (10-16, 5-15 ACC) 36 to 15 from the three-point line, but Miami outscored Clemson 40 to 18 inside the paint. Miami also shot 54 percent from the field while Clemson shot 47 percent from the field but shot 52 percent from behind the three-point line.

Miami found a way to slow down Clemson star Aamir Simms. Simms, who has hurt Miami in the past this season, was held to just six points on 3-of-8 shooting in the second half.

“In the first half, both of their big men were actually hurting us,” sophomore Anthony Walker said. “They were shooting a great percentage from three. We just made the adjustments and switched 1 through 5 and tried to take away those threes as much as possible and turn them into a two-point shooting team.”

For the second night in a row, Miami was led by sophomore guard Isaiah Wong, who scored a game-high 20 points, which included scoring eight of the final 17 points down the stretch for Miami to hold off a late Clemson comeback.

“When I was young, we had a little travel team championship and, in the championship, I had like five seconds left to go and I was making a whole lot of good decisions and a whole lot of tough plays,” Wong said. “I remember the last shot I hit the game-winner. Ever since then I knew I can be the type of person that can get the ball in the last situation and make the best decision.”

Walker was also big again for Miami, scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 2-of-4 from three-point range. Redshirt senior Kameron McGusty added 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting.

Clemson started the game on fire, going 5-of-6 from three-point range in the first eight minutes of the game. Miami found themselves down 17-8, forcing coach Larrañaga to take a timeout.

Miami came out the timeout playing better on both offense and defense. Miami went on a 10–0 run to take a 22-21 lead with about seven minutes left to play. It was a back and forth battle for the rest of the half before Simms scored five straight to help Clemson get a small lead and take a 36-32 lead into halftime.

Wong started the second half making a tough three-pointer, then made another lay-up in the lane over Simms to help Miami tie the game at 41. Both teams then took turns going on 7-0 runs. First, Clemson went on a 7-0 run to take a 48-43 lead, then Miami quickly responded with a 7-0 run of its own to take a 50-48 lead with 10:50 to play.

Miami stretched that run to a 14-2 after a Clemson timeout to push the lead to seven points. Miami held a 57-50 lead with 7:53 to play but Clemson went on a 5–0 run to cut the lead down to two points. Miami held on to a three-point lead with 40.1 seconds left thanks to some clutch shots from Wong and McGusty.

Down three with 40 seconds left Clemson applied a full-court press and trapped Miami’s Walker, forcing him to throw the ball to Clemson guard Al-Amir Dawes. Walker then fouled Dawes as he went up for a lay-up. Dawes went to the line and hit both free throws, cutting Miami’s lead to just one. Miami was forced to use two timeouts to get the ball in and when they finally did, Clemson trapped Wong at half court, forcing him to also turn the ball over. Off the turnover, Clemson called a timeout to set up a play with 14 seconds left. Out of the timeout, Clemson got a floater at the rim but missed and Wong got the rebound and hit some clutch free throw to seal the win for Miami.

“As we started to score our defense improved and it was a really close game at the half, it was a close game throughout, and we were fortunate enough to finish.” Larrañaga said. “We had a couple of critical errors. I did, I ran the wrong press breaker and the wrong sideline out of bounces, and it cost us two turnovers but thank goodness our players were able to recover from it.”

The win also gave Larrañaga his 200th win as head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team.

“Every season is special,” Larrañaga said. “Who knows what will happen, but we are enjoying this journey in the ACC tournament,”

With the win, Miami has now advanced to the third round of the ACC tournament and will play the No.4 seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Thursday at 2:30 pm at the Greensboro Coliseum.