Despite trailing by 17 early in the second half, Miami (4-3, 0-2) took Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0) down to the final seconds before the Hokies finally pulled out the victory, 80-78.
“We didn’t play very well, and sometimes you take a win and you keep on moving,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We’ve got a lot of film that we can look at, there were a lot of things that we didn’t handle well.”
With 90 seconds remaining, the Hokies had just stretched their lead to nine points and looked well on their way to a win. However, after a few turnovers paired with two contested three-pointers from the Hurricanes, the lead was cut to just one.
Wabissa Bede stepped to the line with 26 seconds left and made the front end of his one-and-one, but missed the second. Miami took up almost the entire shot clock before leading scorer Isaiah Wong fired a step-back three from the top of the key. The shot rattled in and out before falling into the hands of Justyn Mutts.
“I didn’t get a good view of it, but my teammates say that it went in and out,” sophomore Tyrece Radford, who was guarding Wong on the play, said. “I was just trying not to pick up a dumb foul and trying to keep that separation while keeping my hand up.”
Mutts missed both of his shots at the line after Miami’s immediate foul, but Bede stole the ball away from Wong before any final heave could be attempted. The Hokies escaped with their second victory in ACC-play.
“We’re nine games in, and we will learn from it,” Young said. “I love those lessons learned after winning more than getting beat.”
“I was just trying to stay aggressive and be locked in at all times,” Aluma said. “Sometimes I can lose my head and not stay focused, so I was just trying to stay focused. I’m just trying to be aggressive and help the team win.”
Aluma had help in the paint from Mutts, who put together his most complete game of the season. He added 15 points and nine rebounds, but the big surprise was that he led the team from long-range. Mutts dropped in 3-of-5 shots from beyond the arc, doubling his three-point makes for the season.
Radford added 13 points and nine rebounds, including a few huge buckets in transition. Sophomore Jalen Cone also continued his hot streak with 12 points, his third consecutive game in double digits.
For Miami, Wong put on a show in the second half, scoring 13 of his 16 points after halftime. He entered the game averaging 19 points per game, good for second in the ACC.
“He might be the best scorer, when you can just put the ball in his hands and he scores, in this league right now,” Young said. “I exhaled so violently [when his last shot missed] that I thought I might collapse there.”
Wong had plenty of responsibility thrust onto his shoulders with the Hurricanes missing senior guards Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty. He got some help from the bench in the form of freshman Matt Cross. Cross tied Wong for the team-lead in scoring with 16, making 6-of-8 shots from the field including four makes from beyond the arc.
Cross’s contributions helped Miami to its best shooting night of the season. The Hurricanes were shooting just 41% from the field before the trip to Blacksburg and just 23.5% from long-range. On Tuesday, Miami made almost 54% of its shots and knocked down 8-of-16 threes in the second half.
“They usually don’t shoot it very well without Lykes, but they came in here and knocked ten threes home,” Young said. “Cross was 4-of-14 coming in, but it’s just the game. We did a nice job of shrinking the floor and making it hard on them.”
The Hokies were able to make up for the Hurricanes’ torrid shooting by forcing turnovers. Miami gave it away 19 times, a season-high, while Tech was able to take better care of the ball, only losing it 11 times.
“Eleven isn’t bad, but I think our team needs to be closer to eight or nine,” Young said. “It’s a big deal to us and a big deal to our team. They understand it and I am certain that is going to continue to get better.”
Once again, Tech wasn’t quite at full-strength on Tuesday. Despite reports that sophomore center John OJiako would return to the rotation, the big man was not on the floor against Miami. Ojiako tore his meniscus just before the season and is still working his way back.
Tech hopes that he can return for a huge rivalry matchup against Virginia on Saturday in Charlottesville. The Hokies will look for their third ranked win and third conference win against the Cavaliers. VT has lost eight of the last nine times they played in John Paul Jones Arena.