Hurricanes can’t hold on, fall at the buzzer to Syracuse

Fourth-year junior guard Nijel Pack dribbles during Miami's game against Syracuse at the JMA Wireless Dome on Jan. 20, 2023. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

Just three days after a crushing defeat to in-state rival Florida State, the Miami Hurricanes traveled to Syracuse, New York for a duel with the Syracuse Orange, aiming to find their stride in conference play. However, up against their seventh ACC opponent, the ‘Canes found themselves in another wire-to-wire matchup on Saturday.

With six seconds to go, Syracuse guard Judah Mintz drove right, was doubled by two ‘Canes, and delivered a cross-court swing to sophomore Quadir Copeland, who was the hero for the Orange, knocking down a triple as the buzzer sounded to defeat Miami 72-69.

A significant variable Miami dealt with was its play at center with All-ACC big man Norchad Omier sidelined due to a lower extremity injury. Freshman Michael Nwoko took up Omier’s role, gaining his first start in the process. Nwoko logged 33 minutes and capitalized when given the opportunity, making all three of his field goal attempts and grabbing five rebounds.

Despite solid play from Nwoko, it’s no secret Miami’s depth has been questionable throughout the season. Rotating six or seven players has been the norm for head coach Jim Larrañaga. When starters Wooga Poplar and Kyshawn George each picked up two fouls six minutes into the contest, it gave the Omier-less ‘Canes another bump in the road.

A tightly contested first half saw Miami lead by one at the break. Strong interior play led by transfer Matthew Cleveland made up for lackluster three-point shooting.

Miami hit on just 1-of-9 from behind the arc through 20 minutes. This season, the three has been a staple for the ‘Canes offense, where they rank tenth in the nation, shooting 39% on the year. It was the second half that showed that prowess. Miami shot 7-of-14 from downtown in the second half, bringing its efficiency up to 35% on the night.

Miami went up seven off a momentous Cleveland dunk with eight minutes to play, yet the Orange rallied behind elite playmaking from their dynamic backcourt of Mintz and JJ Starling. Starling built on an electric night with multiple triples. On the night he totaled 22 points with 13 in the second half. Mintz assisted on five baskets in the final five minutes. It would be Mintz’s final assist which delivered the kicker.

Larrañaga kept it simple following the loss.

“We missed our last shot, they made their last shot and that’s the difference,” Larrañaga said. “One possession … it was a great college game.”

A constructive takeaway from this matchup is the continued emergence of freshman Kyshawn George.

Particularly down the stretch, George showed his ability to score in bunches and a fearlessness to take and make critical shots. The Switzerland native scored seven of his 10 points in the final three minutes of the game, coming on consecutive possessions. With Miami down three and just over a minute to go, George knocked down a near-logo triple to tie the score at 69.

Miami continues its ACC gauntlet Wednesday as it heads to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.