Just when Virginia basketball fans thought they’d seen every conceivable way for their team to win a close game, the Hoos came up with another variation Wednesday night in Miami. As the ball crossed midcourt in a tie game with less than 10 seconds to go, the Hurricanes’ Harlond Beverly committed a foul on purpose and Kihei Clark made two free throws to lift the Cavaliers to a 46-44 victory.
That bizarre closing sequence followed a game where neither team led by more than 6 points, where Jay Huff was the only UVA player to score for nearly 17 minutes, and where Miami’s leading scorer Chris Lykes left with a nose injury on an elbow from his own teammate. In other words, while Virginia’s games have followed a similar script of down-to-the-wire finishes, the details continue to provide plenty of drama.
“I felt bad for him” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “But obviously, I was like ‘We got to take advantage of this.’ … I feel bad for Coach Larranaga, I’ve got great respect for their staff and that’s a hard way to be tied and put two points on the board.”
“Maybe he was worried Kihei was going to make the three like he did against Virginia Tech – Kihei hit a three to win it,” Bennett added with a smile. “No, it was a hard situation. Like I said, we’ll take it anyway we can get it. I’m not going to apologize for the victory, but I understand the situation was unfortunate.”
So exactly what did happen in the closing moments? With the game tied entering the final two minutes, UVA missed three opportunities to score on a single possession thanks to offensive rebounds and then missed another shot following a steal on defense. That left Miami with a chance to take the lead in the final 20 seconds, but Sam Waardenburg’s putback attempt was blocked by Braxton Key.
A lot of bodies converged around the paint on that play and as Clark brought his defensive rebound up the floor, Larranaga voiced his thoughts to the officials. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes in the chaos, Beverly thought those words for the officials were directed at him. So when he heard foul, he did. Clark made both free throws with 8.3 seconds remaining and one final defensive stand sealed the win.
“[I told] the referee he got fouled, foul,” Larranaga said. “And Harlond thought I meant for him to foul. He was listening to me. So didn’t get a chance to actually defend ‘em in that last possession. I thought we got a good shot for D.J. [Vasiljevic] off a little curl cut and they were able to make him miss. We got the ball back out to Harlond, but there was so little time left, didn’t get a chance to really get a good attempt at the end.”
“I just heard him yell foul so I saw there was a little bit of time on the clock so I tried to make a play on the ball,” Beverly said. He added: “It was my fault. I should have been more aware of our foul situation. That was 100 percent on me.”
Clark’s game-winning points capped an otherwise forgettable night for him. He played just 29 minutes thanks to foul trouble in both halves and finished with 7 points on 2-of-8 shooting with 4 assists and 4 turnovers. UVA’s other guards and wings struggled too for the most part. Tomas Woldetensae went 0-3 and failed to score for the second straight game, Casey Morsell missed his only shot attempt, and Key made just 2 of 7 shots for a line of 5 points and 8 rebounds. Kody Stattmann made his only shot attempt on a 3-pointer early in the second half to score 3 points.
That meant the scoring fell to the frontcourt duo of Huff and Mamadi Diakite. One carried the load early, while the other picked things up late.
At the start of the game, Huff picked up where he left off from the Duke win over the weekend where he had 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Against the Hurricanes, he started with the same 7-of-9 shooting stat and put up 17 points with a trio of 3-pointers in the mix. Those 17 points actually were the team’s only points for the first 16:40 of action. The Hoos had 5 turnovers and the other players missed all 10 shot attempts in that span. Huff, however, didn’t score again after that fast start. He finished with 17 points on 7-16 shooting with 9 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal.
Diakite provided some needed scoring later. He posted 10 of his 14 points in the second half, including 6 points in the final 9:22. Back-to-back buckets from Diakite just before the 5-minute mark gave the Hoos a four-point lead at 41-37 and he just missed a designed look out of the under-4 minute media timeout as well. After that, however, he didn’t get another shot attempt over the final 3:57. The senior registered a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with 2 assists and 1 blocked shot.
The Cavaliers shot 36.7% overall (18-49) and 33.3% from 3-point range (5-15). The visitors made 5 of 6 free throws too. They had 13 turnovers.
“Jay got us going offensively in the first half. … We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be and that was discouraging from that standpoint,” Bennett said. “Kihei, who has been so good for us, just had a tough matchup with Lykes. He made some big plays, made the free throws, made the shot, but he wasn’t his normal self. We weren’t hitting outside shots, not that we’ve hit them that well all year. We had to kind of say alright Mamadi in the second half, you’ve got to score. We’ve got to get enough stops.”
Virginia did get stops. Miami shot 35.3% overall (18-51) and 24.0% from 3-point range (6-25). The hosts made their only two free throw attempts. They had 12 turnovers.
The Hurricanes ended up with just one scorer in double digits. Lykes posted 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting with 1 assist mixed in, but he had to leave the game with 12:11 remaining and did not return. Key drove to the basket for the Hoos and made a layup. On that play, Waardenburg rotated over to try to block the shot and when he came down, his elbow clipped Lykes in the face. Larranaga said after the game that Lykes would be going to the ER for further evaluation of a nose injury.
Keith Stone finished with 8 points, while Vasiljevic, Beverly, and Rodney Miller chipped in 6 points each. Miami hung in the game after Lykes’ departure and Stone tied the game at 44-44 on a 3-pointer with 2:17 to go, but the late mistake gave Virginia the free throws it needed to win.
That was just enough for the Wahoos to grab another narrow victory, the sixth time in the last seven games that the outcome came down to the final possession. UVA has won two games by three points, three games by two points, and one game by one point during that stretch. As a result, the Hoos enter the regular season finale on Saturday against Louisville one game behind the Cardinals and Florida State at the top of the league standings. A Virginia win and an FSU loss against Boston College would give the Cavaliers a share of the ACC regular season title.
“We’re in a race. That’s 14 conference wins. We have a chance to win an ACC Regular Season Championship if we are successful on Saturday,” Bennett said. “This team has found ways. It hasn’t always been the most aesthetically pleasing, but they found ways. If you had said this 10 games ago, you wouldn’t have thought it, but they’ve ground out some tough victories on the road and at home. You just find a way and that’s what they’ve done.”