Just as he guided the Miami Hurricanes to late-game successes all season long, redshirt senior guard Charlie Moore stepped up to the foul line with three seconds left for the two most critical free throws of their season.
He knocked both down.
Moore’s game-clinching foul shots carried 10th-seeded Miami to a 68-66 upset win over No. 7 seed Southern California at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, after sophomore guard Isaiah Wong fouled out with a game-high 22 points in the Hurricanes’ first NCAA Tournament game since 2018.
“Heck of a game. Welcome to March Madness,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Neither team started well from the field in the opening minutes. The Hurricanes missed seven of their first eight shots.
Then Wong heated up.
Wong, who produced only seven points on 1-for-11 shooting in Miami’s slim loss to top-seeded Duke in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, scored all 13 of the first Hurricanes points.
“Coming into the game, I started off hot. Then I got in foul trouble and sat the bench,” Wong said. “I just need to keep my mindset healthy. Just coming in the game, I just kept on playing, and the team helped me through that.”
A 16-2 run moved Miami (24-10) ahead by 13 points, while its struggling opponent entered a scoring drought of over 5 ½ minutes late in the first half. The Hurricanes led 31-20 at halftime after forcing 12 turnovers and holding its struggling opponent to 29% shooting.
But USC (26-8) was nowhere close to being finished.
Returning from halftime with a season-low 20 points, the Trojans sparked a 15-2 run.
USC senior forward Isaiah Mobley, the younger brother to former USC standout center Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers, added two three-point field goals. Mobley shot 0-for-6 in the first half but helped the Trojans to make 16 of their final 23 shots.
“Southern Cal played a great second half. They came back and took the lead,” Larrañaga said. “We really needed to raise our level of focus, effort, concentration because at that point in time when we fell behind, we could have easily let things slip away.”
While Miami entered its own scoring drought, Wong again lifted the Hurricanes, providing their first nine points after halftime. Moore made the team’s first and only three of the game as UM missed its other 13 attempts.
In addition to forcing USC into 18 turnovers, six above the Trojans’ average, Miami committed only three. The Hurricanes entered the matchup with the 11th-best turnover margin in the nation.
“The defense was sensational, forced some turnovers,” Larrañaga said. “We rebounded very well. And at halftime, we were comfortably ahead,” Larrañaga said.
With one last chance to send the Hurricanes down, USC forward Drew Peterson, a Rice transfer and the Trojans’ second-leading three-point field goal scorer, missed a buzzer-beating three-point attempt off the backboard from halfcourt.
Peterson, who led the Trojans with 17 points, drilled back-to-back triples in the final 35 seconds to trim Miami’s advantage to one point.
“I felt very, very confident that Charlie would make the free throws, but that was going to still give [USC] an opportunity to make a two or a three,” Larrañaga said. “We wanted to be sure that we were back defensively and matched up because Peterson is obviously a great three-point shooter, and he almost made that one to end the game.”
Fighting off a 15-point turnaround which gave USC a four-point lead in the second half, Miami won its first postseason game since 2016.
“I feel like we had a lot of great teams in the ACC,” Moore said. “We battle every night during conference time. Also, it’s just a great win for Miami, the Miami family. So, just happy and excited we can get the win.”
The Hurricanes closed their trip to the ACC Tournament without their first conference postseason title in 10 years but will attempt to keep their NCAA Tournament run alive in the Round of 32 against second-seeded Auburn Sunday. A tip-off time has yet to be announced by the NCAA.
“I’ll tell you what I told the players last night, we have a team meeting the night before, especially away games, and I wanted them thinking correctly,” Larrañaga said. “So, I told them last night that last night was Christmas Eve and that today was Christmas, and you’re going to get the greatest gift any basketball player growing up dreams about, and that’s the opportunity to play in March Madness because it doesn’t happen very often.”