Canes Defeat Trojans in NCAA Tournament

Canes Defeat Trojans in NCAA Tournament

It was a tough hard-fought battle between two talented teams, but unfortunately in March Madness, only one can come out victorious. On Friday that was the Miami Hurricanes. The wise Pat Riley who made his bones in Los Angeles but now runs the show in Miami once famously said, “there’s winning and there’s misery.” That’s the binary opportunity that sports awards those who participate. It’s an emotional duality separated by a razor thin line. Winning is joyous. Losing is misery. In between is the competitiveness that makes sports stressful yet fun. When the clock read zero and the deep three launched by Drew Peterson ricocheted off the backboard, clanked off the rim, and fell harmlessly to the floor, the Miami Hurricanes bench celebrated victoriously while the Southern California Trojan bench was engulfed by the sudden onset of misery.

Miami got off to a quick start. They came in with a sound game plan formulated by long time coach Jim Larrañaga. The Canes brought lots of ball pressure and set traps with timely double teams on the baseline when USC tried to take advantage of their size advantage in the low post. When the Trojans went to swing the ball, the Canes had already pre-rotated to cover the closest man to the helper and consistently shot the gaps. It was a similar concept to when a team in football blitzes off the edge to send pressure and force quick short throws to the outside, but has defensive coverage sitting on those short those routes. This created turnover after turnover after turnover. USC had 12 turnovers in the first half and most of them were live ball turnovers which led to run outs for the Orange and Green.

You could tell this was a persistent part of the game plan that the Canes had diligently worked on. Miami was ready to quickly turn those steals into points because they seemed to always have a man on the backside leak out for outlet passes from the ball thief. The Canes were stealing all of the balls, bags, and purses. The Trojans did not do a great job getting back on defense because they were surprised by just how effective these traps were and everyone was in disbelief as to how many turnovers it generated. When USC did make an attempt to get back on defense, Miami ran crisp effective fast breaks that took advantage of their numbers advantage. They didn’t move hastily and blow their opportunities for transition buckets. Instead, they made the right passes and decisions that led to layups and dunks instead of charges. The easy transition points culminated in an 11-point lead at the half for the Hurricanes. The commentators, namely Jim Nantz and Bill Rafferty, sounded concerned that this game could end up becoming a lopsided blowout, but this is March and the game was far from over.

Andy Enfield and his boys regrouped at halftime and came out with great energy, focus, and an engaged disposition. The adjustments were made to the pressure coverage the Hurricanes were employing and it led to open 3s that the Trojans kept knocking down. The boys of Troy were bombing away from deep and before we knew it, that 11 point lead evaporated and SC had taken the lead. The Canes coach took a timeout to settle down his team because he could see that the run that SC was making had his guys a little rattled.

From that point forward the game was a hard-fought knock down drag out boxing match that featured countless ties and lead changes. Isaiah Wong had a masterful 22 point performance for Miami and he had long stretches where he carried his team, but he picked up his 4th foul and had to sit. Miami’s McGusty made up for his absence with some timely big shots in the 2nd half. The Canes also took advantage of early foul calls on USC and did a pretty solid job of making their free throws. Meanwhile, Peterson and Waters were showing that they were equal to the task for the Trojans. Making big shot after big shot to answer every run Miami made and to go on runs of their that Miami kept responding to.

Late in the 4th quarter Miami had a 7-point lead with under 40 seconds to go and it felt like the game was all but over. However, a couple three point makes by Peterson and an uncharacteristic turnover by Charlie Moore, and the game was down to a difference of 1 point with 25 seconds to go. Everyone watching was hysterical because no one saw a 19 second 6-0 run coming. But this is March. Sam Waardenburg, the first half shot blocking maestro, missed his first of two high pressure free throws but made the second to make it a 2 point game. Drew Peterson took matters into his own hand and decisively executed a tying layup with 14 seconds to go. Peterson scored USC’s final 8 points in less than 40 seconds to do his own impersonation of Reggie Miller’s famous solo come from behind performance at Madison Square Garden.

It was 66-66 and it seemed like we were destined for another overtime game in this exciting opening round of the NCAA tournament. However, Charlie Moore drove to the basket and got fouled while shooting with 3 seconds to go, and while he struggled from the field on Friday, Charlie was money from the free throw line all day. Canes were up by 2 with 3 seconds to go and the Trojans had to go the full length of the court with no timeouts. But this is March. The game still had one more heart in mouth moment left as Peterson got free for about as good a look as one could expect in that type of situation with such limited time on the clock. When he let it go, it looked online but it was just a little bit too hard and the bank was closed for any buzzer beater game winners at that time.

McGusty, who was defending Peterson, quietly fist pumped in his orange and green jersey after he saw the ball fall to the hardwood. That’s winning. Peterson’s teammates crumpled to the floor as they realized their season was over in the first round after an elite eight appearance last year. That’s misery. The Trojans will try to run it back again next season, meanwhile the Canes survived and advanced. They are on to #2 Auburn on Sunday next.

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