After going through a three-game losing streak, with two of those losses coming against a Boston College team that won’t be in the NCAA tournament and a Syracuse squad that’s currently on the bubble, Miami entered Tuesday’s game at No. 9 North Carolina on a two-game win streak. While Jim Larrañaga’s team was in good shape with regards to simply getting into the NCAA tournament, another marquee win would go a long way when it comes to the Hurricanes’ seeding.
Enter Ja’Quan Newton, whose three-pointer from just inside of the mid-court line as time expired gave Miami a 91-88 win over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
Newton’s game-winner capped a wild final 9.2 seconds, a sequence he began with two made free throws to give Miami an 88-85 lead. Joel Berry II would hit a three over Newton’s outstretched hand to tie the game with 4.1 seconds remaining, but Newton had one last play to make. Not only does the win boost Miami’s NCAA tournament profile, but it also keeps the Hurricanes in the conversation for a double-bye in next week’s ACC tournament.
Newton’s shot was the game’s biggest play, but on a night in which six players scored in double figures the Hurricanes did not lack for contributors. Chris Lykes, who may be one of the ACC’s most exciting freshmen, scored a game-high 18 points and dished out four assists. While the 5-foot-7 freshman did commit five turnovers, he’s willing to go out and look to make plays which is a big deal with Bruce Brown out with a foot injury.
Counting Tuesday’s performance Lykes has now reached double figures in six of Miami’s last seven games, giving Miami another perimeter scoring option. Dewan Huell added 14 points and eight rebounds, and Lonnie Walker IV 13 points, with D.J. Vasiljevic and Ebuka Izundu combining to score 22 points off the bench.
Izundu, who entered Tuesday’s game averaging 4.8 points per game on the season, scored all 12 of his points in the first half as Miami took an eight-point lead into the half. While the progression of Lykes has been key over the last month or so, Izundu’s play over the last three games is worth noting as well. The 6-foot-10 junior chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds in last week’s win over Notre Dame, and if Izundu can continue on this path he gives Miami another interior option they can rely on consistently.
With Bruce Brown not expected to return until some point during the NCAA tournament, Miami’s margin for error is even smaller than it was with the talented sophomore on the court. But when it receives solid efforts across the rotation as it did Tuesday night, Miami’s capable of being a handful.
Offensively the Hurricanes were able to work their way into the paint against North Carolina, outscoring the Tar Heels 36-24 in the paint and shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 11-for-20 from three. Add in 20 points off of 13 North Carolina turnovers, and Miami did the work required to put itself in position to leave Chapel Hill with the win. Things got interesting late thanks to North Carolina’s comeback, but the Hurricanes had one last play to make.
And Ja’Quan Newton rose to the occasion, with the senior guard spoiling the night for North Carolina’s senior class.