By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Twenty-two free throws for the University of Miami, twenty-two for the University of Virginia.
Seventeen makes for the Hurricanes, nine for the Cavaliers.
Need we say more?
“It’s pretty easy to figure it out,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said Saturday afternoon after his team lost 70-68 in overtime at Miami’s BankUnited Center.
Late defensive lapses also hurt the Wahoos, who for most of the game made Miami earn its points. The Hurricanes (3-6, 14-10) shot only 39.3 percent from the field.
“They’re probably the best defensive team we’ve played, them and Florida State,” said Miami’s Adrian Thomas. “They’re small, but they’re real scrappy.”
Twice in the final 40 seconds of regulation, however, UVa (3-6, 12-11) was called for fouling a Miami shooter on a 3-point attempt. The ‘Canes made five of six resulting free throws to force overtime.
“There might have been a defensive breakdown here or there, but for the most part it was fouling the 3-point shooters and [going] 9 of 22 from the line,” Bennett said. “And that’s tough. That’s tough. But we move on.”
In OT, freshman swingman Joe Harris was fouled in the act of shooting with 5.8 seconds left and UVa down 68-66. Fittingly on this afternoon, perhaps, Harris missed the first free throw. He then intentionally missed the second, hoping a Cavalier would come down with the rebound.
No such luck. The ball went out of bounds to Miami, and UVa had to foul Thomas with 2.9 seconds left. He made both free throws to seal the win for the Hurricanes. Sophomore point guard Jontel Evans capped a strong game — 9 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and only 1 turnover — with a jumper at the buzzer for UVa, but it didn’t change the outcome.
In the final 23 seconds of OT, Miami went 5 for 6 from the line.
“Obviously our free-throw shooting late game was the difference,” Hurricanes coach Frank Haith said.
This marked the third time in the past four games that UVa shot 50 percent or worse from line.
Virginia led Miami by seven points when senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan went to the line for a one-and-one with 1:53 left in the second half. Had he made both ends, a UVa victory probably would have been assured. Had he made the first and missed the second, Virginia’s position would have been strengthened.
Three nights earlier, in Virginia’s win over Clemson at John Paul Jones Arena, Farrakhan had gone 4 for 4 from the line in the final 30 seconds. He missed the front end this time, however, and Miami scored on its next possession to pull to 53-48.
That was still the score was Harris went the line for a one-and-one with 46 seconds. He missed the front end, and Miami rebounded. The Hurricanes then scored eight points in a you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it span of 25 seconds to pull even.
“We did everything we had to do to win that game,” Farrakhan said, “but our free-throw shooting, including myself, wasn’t good enough … I missed too many free throws today.”
Even so, UVa had a chance to win at the end of regulation after Miami freshman Rion Brown coolly hit three free throws with 13.7 seconds to make it 56-56.
Virginia inbounded to Farrakhan, who dribbled toward the basket, got cut off and then passed to freshman forward Akil Mitchell in the left corner. With time running down, Mitchell took one dribble and put up a 12-foot jumper from the baseline. His shot missed everything, and the game went into overtime.
The defense “slid over, and I didn’t want to draw a charge,” Farrakhan said, “so that was my only outlet, to pass it.”
Mitchell said: “I knew that Mu was in trouble, so I knew I was going to have to make a play. I just thought about it a little too much.”
It was a strange day for Farrakhan (20 points) and Harris (18), without whose shooting the Wahoos would not have been in position to win. They were a combined 13 for 23 from the floor, including 7 for 12 from beyond the arc.
From the line, though, Farrakhan went 4 for 9, Harris 2 for 6. Moreover, junior center Assane Sene missed all three of his foul shots.
“Today, we played well enough to win, but we didn’t knock down our free throws at the end, and I think we gave it away,” said senior forward Will Sherrill, whose 3-pointer in overtime had pulled Virginia to 67-66.
“They made a couple shots, got some calls that could have easily gone our way, but we’ve got to knock down our free throws late in the game. That’s about it.”
In the two days of practice leading up to this game, free throws were among the points UVa’s coaching staff emphasized most. The players shot dozens and dozens of them. On Thursday and again on Friday, in fact, each player had to make 10 straight foul shoots before he could be excused from practice.
It’s difficult, though, to simulate the pressure of game situations, Bennett said, and Farrakhan seemed to the tone for the team Saturday when he missed a pair little more than two minutes in.
The solution to this problem?
“You just gotta make ’em,” Bennett said. “You gotta make ’em to get over that, and it’s hard. You play little games [in practice] and put pressure on it. But no, you don’t throw your hands in the air and say, ‘Ah, forget it.’ You keep shooting your free throws. You keep trying to be creative, finding ways [to improve in practice]. Keep encouraging them and finding things you did well, build on it.
“There’s a lot of games left, and we’re trying to be about quality. And I thought our quality was better down the stretch in terms of the main things we’ve had some trouble with, whether it’s silly turnovers or breakdowns. It was just a couple specific things that really cost us.”
Partly damaging was the foul called on junior guard Sammy Zeglinski (11 points, 4 assists, career-high 3 blocks) with 13.7 seconds left in the regulation. It was Zeglinski’s fifth personal and sent Brown to the line for three shots.
“I need to look at the tape” before commenting on that call, Bennett said.
Asked how much contact there was on the play, Zeglinski answered emphatically.
“None,” he said. “I don’t think a single part of my body touched his body. I didn’t even get an explanation from the ref, so I don’t know if he called a block or [thought] my hand hit his hand, but I’m positive I didn’t touch him … I actually tipped the ball a little bit. Maybe if I didn’t tip the ball, he wouldn’t have called anything, but I guess because the shot changed he thought I fouled him.”
Harris made four treys against Miami, his most in an ACC game, and Zeglinski and Farrakhan added three and two, respectively. The best shooter on the court Saturday, though, was Miami’s Thomas, a sixth-year senior.
A 6-7 forward with seemingly unlimited range, Thomas made 6 of 12 shots from beyond the arc — the most UVa has allowed an opposing player in each category this season — and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, both career highs.
The loss was the 13th straight in this state for UVa, which visits Florida State (6-2, 16-6) next Saturday.
“We played well enough, certainly, to win that game,” Bennett said. “Defended well. We worked the clock. Got shots at the end of the clock. Didn’t turn it over. Handled the press … But you gotta come through at the end. That’s what this game is about.”
His players echoed their coach. There may have been some questionable calls, Farrakhan said, “but that’s neither here nor there. We had the game the majority of the game and just didn’t capitalize.”