‘There’s no nights off’: Hurricanes set for road battle against Virginia Tech

Sixth-year redshirt senior guard Charlie Moore scans for an open teammate during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The tough and yet different tests have come and gone for Miami men’s basketball in the last four games.

A pair of one-point losses to longtime rival Florida State, a wire-to-wire victory at home against North Carolina and an upset win over then-No. 2 Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium have set up the Hurricanes for another setting shift: a road test versus struggling Virginia Tech.

“I think everybody in life battles through adversity. There are always challenges, and we have a very simple philosophy based on three words and the first word is ‘attitude’,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. And, you must remain positive through all circumstances … There’s always going to be adversity, and you have to learn from every experience.”

In front of a sold-out Watsco Center, UM didn’t achieve the result it sought over FSU Saturday. A second-half rally from 26 points down, however, gave it a reason to believe that an opponent’s lead is almost never safe.

“I was definitely happy our guys fought back,” Miami assistant coach DJ Irving said. “It was exciting to see that they could compete and stay locked in for that long, even being down so much—down 26 at one point—and not just give up … It’s good that we know going forward that we’re capable of doing that, but you definitely never want to be down that much. [I am] happy that were able to come back, but also anxious to figure out why we got down so much.”

Slow starts are not unfamiliar to the Hurricanes (14-5, 6-2 ACC) this year. FSU buried UM into a 43-19 halftime deficit, its largest across the season, while the Hurricanes shot hardly 26% in the first half.

And the Hokies (10-8, 2-5 ACC), despite their current two-game losing streak and 0-4 ACC start, possess unique strengths as they host the Canes inside Cassell Coliseum Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“I think they’re really good. Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts are absolutely a fantastic 1-2 combination inside. They both can stretch the defense and take you outside,” Larrañaga said. “Storm Murphy can get the ball to them and he’s an excellent shooter. They’re first in the league in defending the 3, and they’re first in the league in 3-point percentage. So, it’s a very, very challenging combination. And, of course, playing at [Virginia] Tech, to me, is one of the most [tough] places to play in the conference because their fans are very rabid.”

At the helm of the ninth-oldest team in Division I college basketball, which includes five college graduates, Larrañaga has emphasized the importance of focusing on one game at a time.

“There’s no nights off, there’s no easy games, there’s no game you can look past,” Larrañaga said. “Every game, that’s why I keep repeating it, is a marathon. You can’t slow down in the middle of a marathon and expect to finish strong. People will be bypassing you, one game after another. If you can understand the idea of taking one game at a time and get your players ready for that game, that opponent, because every opponent is so different.”

Aluma, a Preseason All-ACC First Team nominee, leads Virginia Tech’s scoring efforts at 15.7 points per game. The 6-foot-9 redshirt senior forward notched his 14th consecutive double-digit scoring outing in the Hokies’ 10-point loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Monday night.

Virginia Tech’s veteran guards Storm Murphy, Hunter Cattoor and Nahiem Alleyne are each shooting at least 35% from 3-point territory. Forward Justyn Mutts collected his first double-double against the Tar Heels at 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Hokies swept the two-game season series last year, and lead 24-19 all-time. UM hasn’t defeated Virginia Tech since winning a 102-95 triple-overtime battle in Blacksburg, Virginia, in February 2020.

“I don’t think anybody looks past us or gets any more excited to play us.” Larrañaga said. “As far as I can tell, our guys are trying to get ready for every game. Every opponent we play is trying to get ready for us. Whether we’re sitting in first [place] or 12th, there’s a very good opponent on the court with us.”