The Hurricanes’ magical 2021 ACC tournament run has finally come to an end after a 70-66 loss to the No. 4 seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Miami fought hard until the end, holding a seven-point lead early in the second half but were unable to pull off its second upset in two days.
“Well, that was a heck of a fight,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I thought we gave it all we had right up until the final buzzer.”
Miami (10-17, 4-15 ACC) had 12 turnovers during the second half, completing the game with 18 turnovers overall. Georgia Tech (16-8, 11-6 ACC) was able to score 16 points off those turnovers, something Larrañaga feels hurt the Canes’ chances to secure the victory.
“What killed us were the turnovers in the second half,” Larrañaga said. “We struggled to complete passes against their defense, and those turnovers led to easy buckets. Our half-court defense was pretty good.”
What also may have contributed to Miami’s loss was fatigue. Miami has been competing with only six available scholarship players for some time now. They were also playing their third game in three days.
“A little bit, you know it gets tough with six guys,” Miami center Nysier Brooks said after the game.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong seemed to suffer from fatigue the most. Wong scored just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field.
Coming into the game, Wong had led Miami in scoring in each of its first two tournament games. He scored 20 points on 5-of-13 shooting in the first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers and 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the second-round matchup against the Clemson Tigers. Wong also played 36 minutes and 39 minutes in both games.
“I would say that there were at least three things if not more,” Larrañaga said of Wong’s performance. “One, he was being guarded by Jose Alvarado. The defensive player of the year puts a lot of pressure on you. Two, he got a lot of help on any of Isaiah’s drives, that’s why Isaiah can normally get to the rim but their zone really protects the lane so Isaiah couldn’t get into the lane, and third I would have to say the third game in three days, him missing free throws was kind of an indication to me that he was a little bit fatigue.”
With Wong struggling to score in the first half, Brooks stepped up for Miami. The senior, playing in what may have been his last college game, scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half to help Miami take a 33-29 lead at halftime. Redshirt senior Kameron McGusty also played well for Miami in the first half, scoring eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. Wong scored just four points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Miami came out on fire to start the second half. McGusty and Wong hit back-to-back threes before Wong hit a driving layup to push their lead to seven. However, the Yellow Jackets kept fighting and took a 45-44 lead with about 14 minutes to play. Miami got the lead back and even pushed it to four points before the offense went cold, allowing the Yellow Jackets to turn things around and build an eight-point lead of their own.
With time starting to run out on their magical run, the Hurricanes applied a full-court press that helped them force a few turnovers and cut the lead to just three with 1:17 left to play. Georgia Tech made a layup that gave them a 68–63 lead with 39 seconds on the clock. The Canes then raced down the court and found McGusty for a 3-pointer that cut the lead to two with 31.9 seconds left. Miami almost forced a turnover on Georgia Tech but a last-minute save by GT point guard Jose Alvarado helped lead to a wide-open dunk that sealed the win for the Yellow Jackets.
McGusty led Miami in scoring with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 3-of-7 shooting from three-point range. Brooks finished with 19 points, six rebounds, and two blocks.
Sophomore Forward Anthony Walker, who had been playing well for the Canes during this tournament run, also struggled in the game, scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” McGusty said “When it comes to bonding, I mean we definitely bonded. On the court, off the court, all the traveling you know, there is only six of us. Not a lot of us, so you know we were talking to each other a lot. We loved being together. I’m definitely gonna remember this year for sure.”