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MBB Comeback Bid Falls Short, 80-78, at No. 24 Virginia Tech

by Alex Schwartz

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The University of Miami men’s basketball team trimmed a 17-point second half lead down to one in the final minute Tuesday night at Cassell Coliseum, but could not rally all the way back.

Miami (4-3, 0-2 ACC) dropped an 80-78 decision to No. 24/RV Virginia Tech in a game it played without four injured returning starters, two of whom are out for the year. Five Hurricanes scored in double figures, led by 16 apiece from freshman forward Matt Cross and sophomore guard Isaiah Wong, whose 3-pointer in the final seconds went halfway down before bouncing out.

“I thought that was a very well-played college basketball game between two serious competitors,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Our players fought back from a double-digit deficit and had a shot to win the game. A lot of guys stepped up.”

Both teams had 30 points through the first 15:45 minutes, but Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0 ACC) went on a 12-0 run in the next two minutes. Wong hit a 3-pointer at the other end that was the final basket of the half, as the Hokies took a 42-33 edge into the locker room.

Virginia Tech got 19 first-half points from redshirt junior forward Keve Aluma and posted a 9-2 edge in second-chance points.

The Hokies scored 14 of the first 20 points of the second half, taking a 56-39 lead with 16:05 to play. Their lead sat at 13, 66-53, with under 10 minutes to go, but Miami went on an 8-0 run, capped by an alley-oop dunk and 3-pointer by Wong, to make it 66-61 with 5:44 to play.

The Hurricanes trailed by seven with under 50 seconds left, but continued to storm back and cut the deficit to one, 79-78, on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Harlond Beverly with 28 ticks to go. After the Hokies split a pair of free throws, Wong took a 3-pointer with five seconds left that rattled in and out, as Virginia Tech held on for the win.

“We never hung our heads. We had a good plan,” Larrañaga said of the near comeback. “Last year, we were down seven [here with 4:26] to go, came back and won the game in triple-overtime. I reminded our players of that and told them, ‘There’s plenty of time. Don’t look at the clock; play the game. Force turnovers, foul them and force them to make some pressure-packed free throws. Matt Cross stepped up and hit some critical shots, we got a couple of good steals. It was a very well-played game.”

Cross’ career-high point total came on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor, including a 4-of-6 mark from 3-point range. Wong, meanwhile, connected on three 3-pointers for the third game in a row after never previously reaching that total.

Beverly totaled a season-best 14 points, a co-game-high nine rebounds and career-high-tying six assists, the latter mark leading all players. Senior guard Elijah Olaniyi notched a season-best 11 points and redshirt senior center Nysier Brooks added 10, while redshirt junior forward Deng Gak scored a career-high eight.

Aluma finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting for the Hokies, adding six rebounds, four assists and a game-best three blocks. Redshirt junior forward Justyn Mutts logged 15 points and nine boards, while redshirt sophomore guard Tyrece Radford had 13 and nine, respectively. Sophomore guard Jalen Cone chipped in 12 points for the home team.

“Keve Aluma, the Virginia Tech big man, really had himself a great game,” Larrañaga said. “He was very, very hard to stop.”

Miami dished out 20 assists, as well as shot 53.6 percent (30-of-56) from the floor, 40.0 percent (10-of-25) from 3-point range and 80.0 percent (8-of-10) at the line, each mark better than it allowed. However, it committed a season-high 19 turnovers and forced just 11.

The Hurricanes now open their 2021 slate Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. against Clemson at the Watsco Center, live on RSN.

To keep up with the University of Miami men’s basketball team on social media, follow @CanesHoops on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The 2020-21 Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball season is presented by First National Bank.

MIAMI HURRICANES POSTGAME NOTES
– The Hurricanes moved to 24-18 all-time against Virginia Tech, including 8-10 on the road and 14-8 in Larrañaga’s tenure.
– Larrañaga, who entered the game with the 10th-most victories of any active Division I coach, is now 664-450 in 37 years as a head coach, including 194-116 in 10 seasons at Miami.
– The Hurricanes are now 29-40 all-time in road openers, including 6-4 in Larrañaga’s tenure, 10-7 since joining the ACC in 2004-05 and 3-8 versus ranked foes (2-1 under Larrañaga).
– Miami moved to 6-11 all-time in ACC road openers, including 4-6 under Larrañaga and 1-9 against ranked teams (1-4 in Larrañaga’s tenure).
– For the third game in a row, Miami used a starting lineup of Beverly, Brooks, Olaniyi, Wong and sophomore forward Anthony Walker.
– The Hurricanes once again played without senior guard Chris Lykes (left ankle), redshirt senior center Rodney Miller Jr. (right knee, season), redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty (right hamstring) and redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg (left foot, season).
– Miami posted 20 assists in a game for the 15th time in Larrañaga’s 10-year tenure, including the sixth in ACC, and did so for the first time since 2/23/19 against Georgia Tech and for the first time on the road since 1/21/18 at NC State.
– The Hurricanes dropped to 68-9 (30-8 ACC) when recording 15-plus assists under Larrañaga and suffered their first setback when tallying at least 20.
– Miami fell to 78-9 (26-4 ACC) in Larrañaga’s tenure when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor.
– The Hurricanes shot 50 percent from the field in both halves for the first time since 2/12/20 versus Boston College.
– Olaniyi, who surpassed 1,150 points as a collegian, registered double-figure points for the 60th time and first at Miami.
– Beverly, who eclipsed 100 assists in his career, logged double-digit points for the 11th time, including the second this year, as well as recorded five-plus assists for the seventh time, including the third in 2020-21.
– Beverly set a new career best for rebounds in an ACC game and connected on multiple 3-pointers in a league play for the first time.
– Gak’s prior career high in points was five, registered 12/1/18 against Yale at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
– Cross, who moved past 50 points in his young career, scored in double figures for the third time, including the first as a reserve.
– Wong tallied his 17th double-digit scoring performance, including his seventh in as many games this season.
– Brooks, who surpassed both 500 points and 400 rebounds as a collegian, notched his 16th double-figure point total and second of the year.
– Guard Earl Timberlake posted his first five-assist outing, the first by a Miami freshman since Beverly logged six on 2/12/20 against Boston College.