McColl: MBB loss to Georgia Tech should only be a bump in the road

Guard Nijel Pack watches his 3-point shot in Miami's game against Georgia Tech on Jan. 4. Photo credit: Tessa Mortensen (Miami Athletics)

For the first time this season, the No. 12 Miami Hurricanes (13-2, 4-1 ACC) lost a game in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) on Wednesday night against Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion, 76-70.

The outcome was certainly disappointing, especially considering the manner in which it happened. After overcoming an early 12-point deficit, momentum was with the ‘Canes as they held a 70-64 lead with just a few minutes to go in the second half.

Suddenly, the Yellow Jackets went on a 12-0 run to end the game, forcing Miami to miss its last seven shots from the field. It was a stunning loss for the Hurricanes, but not particularly surprising.

The ‘Canes have played above expectations. Regression was inevitable, and it will not be a major concern unless it becomes a trend.

In its first two ACC games, Miami trounced Louisville by 27 points and beat the NC State Wolfpack, 80-73.

Before facing off against Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes downed Notre Dame by 11 on the road. The backcourt of Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack combined for 36 points in the game.

Wong finished a perfect 7 of 7 from the free throw line while Pack was 5 for 8 on 3-point attempts. Big man Norchad Omier kept out of foul trouble, which allowed him to finish with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Before, the ‘Canes had played as well versus a then No. 6 ranked Virginia Cavaliers squad, winning 66-64.

In that game, Wong dropped a team-high 24 points with six rebounds and five assists. He shot over 50% from the field and went 8 of 9 from the free throw line.

Jordan Miller, Pack and Omier also found themselves in double figures as they scored 11, 10 and 10 points, respectively.

All the consistencies mentioned above were absent, however, when the ‘Canes took on Georgia Tech.

In 36 minutes, Wong could only get six points, shooting a cold 1 of 11 from the field and 0 of 8 from downtown. Pack scored 13 but made under a third of his shots.

“[Wong] is so good at scoring the ball, and he just had a bad night,” head coach Jim Larrañaga said postgame. “He’s entitled to a bad night every once in a while, and tonight was it.”

Omier could not stay out of foul trouble, and he was forced to miss much of the game as a result. Held to 21 minutes of action, he still scored 17 points and gathered eight rebounds.

Overall, the Hurricanes shot only 15.6% from the 3-point arc, which was well below their season average of 31.8%. Furthermore, Miami’s field goal percentage was more than 13 points lower than its ACC-leading mark of 48.3%.

As the Hurricanes look to move on from their first conference loss, there is only cause for concern if the trends continue. Miami received several big games from its key contributors in recent weeks, and it only seemed like a matter of time before the team was caught making too many mistakes on a bad night.

All in all, the ‘Canes simply need to focus on getting better and continuing their momentum towards the NCAA tournament. The Hurricanes have been ranked, won big games in the regular season and been upset before. None of what has happened is new.

What would be new – a run to the Final Four. A year removed from a trip to the Elite Eight, Miami wants to represent the ACC as one of the last teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, and that should be the ultimate goal. Through the turbulence, it might be best for the Hurricanes not to peak early in the season.