Bensley Joseph’s boost off the bench sparks second-half comeback, propels ‘Canes past Virginia Tech 82-74

Fourth-year junior forward Norchad Omier looks for an open teammate in the second half of Miami’s game versus Virginia Tech in the Watsco Center on Feb. 3, 2024. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The back-to-back dunks from junior forward Norchad Omier and freshman Kyshawn George, respectively, restored Miami’s lead and restored the life in the crowd at the Watsco Center. With just under four minutes to play, UM had all the momentum, and from there, the ‘Canes never looked back as they went on to complete the comeback to win 82-74 over the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies.

“It was just us having fun out there,” George said. “Seeing my guys perform, big plays, the crowd was loud, just having fun. From down ten, battling with my guys and seeing us chip away the lead and make big plays down the stretch, it’s fun to see. I’m happy it happened.”

The Hurricanes were trailing for a large part of the game. After the Hokies took the lead with just over 10 minutes left in the first half, they held a stranglehold on the game. There was a stretch before halftime where the Hurricanes went without a field goal for the final 8:21 of the first half.

The turnover issues that plagued Miami in past games persisted. Miami finished with nine turnovers in the first half. Head coach Jim Larrañaga talked to his team at the half and made adjustments that seemed to work, given the ‘Canes only had two turnovers in the following half.

“The players did not dribble too much,” Larrañaga said. “There’s got to be more to it than that, no. Very simply, against a team like Virginia Tech, the name of the defense is the pack. If you try and dribble through there early in the possession, you got a bunch of guys in there who will slap the ball out of your hands. That’s what happened. In the second half, we spread them out and shared the ball much better and got much better looks at the basket.”

Junior guard Bensley Joseph sank a colossal three-pointer as the crowd returned to life. This bucket gave Miami a one-point lead with just under seven minutes to play. Joseph’s defense and energy were a massive addition for UM off the bench. The 14 second-half points from Joseph were vital in Miami’s comeback.

“Shoutout to my teammates for instilling confidence in me to just come in and try and make an impact on the team,” Joseph said. “You know, fighting through adversity, we know we’ve had ups and downs all season and this month we know we need to play our best. We know we need to come together fully, just trying to be positive in the locker room, and picking each other up. Kind of knowing we’ve been here before but there’s a lot more work to do.”

The Hurricanes got a boost from a healthy Matthew Cleveland, as he contributed the first bucket on his way to 15 points, 13 rebounds, and the game-sealing dunk.

Junior guard Wooga Poplar went down with an injury two minutes into the game. While he would return, he was limited when he was out there. Poplar finished with seven points on just 1-of-5 shooting from the field.

Miami played Virginia Tech just three weeks ago in Blacksburg, Virginia. The Hurricanes escaped with a 75-71 win behind a 21-point effort from Cleveland. Hokies star Sean Pedulla had 33 points the last time he played Miami. The Hurricanes held Pedulla to 21 points and forced him into uncomfortable shots.

“Having more of a focus on what (Pedulla) does best and what he’s trying to get to,” Joseph said. “The first game was at their home and he got hot and hit some shots. This one was just trying to slow him down and stop him from making easy shots.”

The win was a must-win for the ‘Canes to keep up in the ACC and maximize their chances of making the tournament. Miami is finally back to having its entire roster playing, and it’ll need it in the challenging games in the future.

Looking to turn this win into a winning streak, the ‘Canes take to the road on Monday night for a clash with ACC rival Virginia. This game is set to tip off at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN.