Game Notes: Hurricanes fall to defending champs in final seconds

This story was written by Marcos Chisholm. Follow him on Twitter @MarcosHoops.

For once, things were going as planned by Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga.

Miami’s defense was stopping Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite early. The Hurricanes were shooting 40% in the first half against the best defense in the nation. And they even took the lead in the second half.

Yet no other game this season has ridden their optimism in March like Wednesday’s 46-44 home loss to the No. 22 Virginia Cavaliers.

Guard Harlond Beverly fouled Clark — an 86.5% free-throw shooter — when the game was tied 44-44 with 8.3 seconds left. Clark then gave Virginia a two-point lead with both free throws. But Larrañaga did not tell Beverly to foul him.

“Harlond thought I meant for him to foul as he was listening to me,” Larrañaga said. “So we didn’t get a chance to actually defend them in that last possession.”

Miscommunication was not the only setback in the final seconds for Miami (14-15, 6-13 ACC). DJ Vasilvejic attempted a game-winning 3-pointer that fell short, costing the Hurricanes the game and improved odds for a first-round ACC Tournament bye.

Miami still played one of their best games this season. Chris Lykes reminded the ACC why he is an overlooked playmaker in a year lacking generational talent. The junior rarely struggled to create separation, scoring 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Wednesday’s defeat serves as a sobering reminder: No matter how competitive the Hurricanes appear in certain matchups, some problems were simply unavoidable. Lykes received an elbow to the face with 11:51 left, leaving the Hurricanes without their best scorer. Then lack of roster depth hurt the Hurricanes late.

The same effects of Larrañaga’s reduced lineups reemerged whenever freshman Harlond Beverly substituted in for Lykes. While Beverly finished the night with 6 points, he was exposed on defense. Failures switching on pick-and-rolls left him guarding Diakite inside. Virginia found mismatches to open up easy looks at the rim. Diakite scored 11 points in the second half. And Beverly tallied the second-lowest net rating out of Miami’s roster. Keith Stone, Rodney Miller, and Kameron McGusty each tied for the team’s worst (-5).

Still, the Hurricanes protected the rim exceptionally. Stone, Miller, Isaiah Wong, and Sam Waardenburg each tallied at least one block. Stone also had four steals in an elite defensive performance, where he frequently guarded Clark.

As complementary scoring options, McGusty (13.0 PPG) and DJ Vasiljevic (13.2 PPG) struggled. McGusty went scoreless on three shot attempts and Vasiljevic didn’t score until he made a 3-pointer with 17:40 left. Vasiljevic has shown flashes of being a versatile initiator from different areas of the floor. But he found himself spotting up for contested looks against a Virginia defense that allowed only 16 points in the paint. He shot 25% from three and struggled to help the offense beyond spacing the floor.

Miami will finish this season winless against AP Top 25 teams (0-6). With Virginia Tech’s 70-58 victory over Clemson at home, Miami now falls to 12th in the ACC Conference with one game left on its schedule.

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