Hurricanes hold off Orange on Senior Day

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

It was Senior Day in a Watsco Center decked in orange. Once Miami Hurricanes guard D.J. Vasiljevic and forward Keith Stone were honored in a ceremony before their final home game, the stage was set for a memorable performance: The Hurricanes defeated Syracuse 65-62 in overtime on Saturday.

Shortly after the pregame, Vasiljevic made ACC history. At the 15:58 mark in the first half, he made the 265th 3-pointer of his college career, officially passing Duke’s Bobby Hurley and Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney for No. 19 on ACC’s all-time list.

“It was a little emotional, I’m not going to lie,” Vasiljevic said.

Although the Australian native put on a memorable shooting performance, both teams still struggled to make shots from deep. Miami converted 32.3% of its 3-point attempts and Syracuse shot only 20% beyond the arc.

With leading scorer Chris Lykes out due to injury, Miami was forced to use more of its roster. Despite Miami’s bench scoring 13 bench points, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense continued creating problems until Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga made tactical changes. The same Hurricanes team that regularly leans on Iso scoring decided to share the ball more, producing a season-high 18 assists.

“Now, that’s a reflection of the 2-3 zone,” Larrañaga said. “It’s very hard to get shots off the bounce against them, because when they’re out there on the perimeter, if you throw it inside and start dribbling, the defense collapses on you. So the best thing we could do was throw it in and kick it out.”

One of Syracuse’s greatest advantages against Miami lied in its inside scoring. The Orange scored 32 paint points with the help of Marek Dolezaj and Elijah Hughes, both of whom combined for 25 points on Saturday. Miami only scored 20 paint points, eight of which came during the final 20 minutes of regulation.

After being down five points in the second half, the Hurricanes made key plays that kept hopes alive. Rodney Miller Jr. produced Miami’s first inside points of the second half, and Isaiah Wong made a three with 3:58 left in the game.

Then, Miami’s Senior Day hero came to the rescue. Fan-favorite DJ Vasiljevic hit a momentum-shifting 3-pointer with 2:06 left in the game, giving the Hurricanes their first lead since the 16:14 mark in the second half.

“I think they went on a little run, and we didn’t score for a couple of minutes. Once I hit one, I got myself going and Isaiah got going,” Vasiljevic said. “I was happy with that.”

For once, it seemed as if this was Miami’s game for the taking.

Only it wasn’t just yet.

Syracuse’s Joseph Girard III shocked the Watsco Center with heroics appropriate for college basketball in March. Girard III hit a game-tying basket with 1.5 seconds to go, helping send the game into overtime.

The Hurricanes fell into immediate shock. However, after coming out of a team huddle with Larrañaga, Miami outscored Syracuse 13-9 in overtime.

Isaiah Wong scored 5 points within two minutes of overtime. After making two free throws, Wong converted a 3-pointer with 3:29 to play. Then Keith Stone’s crowd-erupting dunk with 28 seconds to go nearly sealed the game, giving the Hurricanes a five-point lead.

But once Syracuse got within two points of the Hurricanes again, it was D.J. Vasiljevic’s two free throws with two seconds left that sealed both the game for Miami and his college career at home.

“For me to get on that free-throw line and score the last point, I mean it means a lot to trust in myself,” Vasiljevic said.

Vasiljevic finished the game with 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting and shot 38.5% from three. Isaiah Wong led the Hurricanes in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting while tallying four assists.

UP NEXT: ACC Tournament

Following Saturday’s win, the Hurricanes (15-15, 7-13 ACC) will begin the next chapter of their season in the ACC Tournament. Leading up to next week’s games in Greensboro, Jim Larrañaga believes his players will need to treat any of their remaining games differently.

“The first thing is the regular season is one season, you put it behind you. The postseason, ACC Tournament, and beyond is like a whole other season,” Larrañaga said.

However, he also acknowledges that Miami’s efforts today exemplify what he still needs out of his team.

“We beat Syracuse today in overtime, we beat Clemson in overtime, we beat Virginia Tech in triple overtime. So in those games, it often comes down to somebody making a big play and stepping up and making a big free throw or a big block or rebound or what have you, and today that was DJ Vasiljevic, Kam McGusty, and Isaiah Wong all making a series of very important plays.”

The Hurricanes fly to Greensboro tomorrow to prepare for their second-round matchup on Tuesday against Clemson.

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