Having the ball in Lonnie Walker IV’s hands – especially late in a game – should’ve meant nothing but good things for the University of Miami.
Unfortunately, the young freshman committed two costly errors within in the final 26 seconds of Miami’s opening round game of the NCAA Tournament that ultimately allowed 11-seed Loyola-Chicago to hit a game-winning shot in the finals seconds and eliminate the 6-seed Hurricanes in a 64-62 thriller Thursday at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
After Ja’Quan Newton put Miami up 62-60 with a clutch jumper, Loyola-Chicago missed out on its chance to tie the game with 26 seconds left when Marques Townes missed the first of two free throws. Townes then sank the second shot to cut the Ramblers’ deficit down to one.
Thinking that Loyola, which was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years, would foul on Miami’s ensuing possession, the Canes inbounded the ball to Walker. Instead of fouling Walker right away, Loyola’s Lucas Williamson was able to knock the ball out of Walker’s hands and it rolled off Walker’s leg out of bounds.
The Ramblers (29-5) missed a pair of layup attempts after Walker’s turnover and UM’s Sam Waardenburg came up with a rebound. Waardenburg quickly got the ball out of his hands and passed it to Walker.
Loyola fouled Walker with nine seconds remaining. Walker, a 75 percent free throw shooter on the year, stepped to the line and saw his first one-and-one free throw bounce on the rim multiple times before falling wayward and into the hands of the Ramblers.
Townes raced up the floor and passed the ball off to Donte Ingram, who pulled up nearly five-feet behind the three-point line and swished the desperation shot – putting Loyola-Chicago up 64-62 as the buzzer sounded.
Although the buzzer went off after Ingram’s shot fell through the net and the Ramblers benched poured onto the floor in celebration, game officials put 0.3 seconds back on the clock.
Adding the time back to the clock was ultimately for naught as the Canes had its full-court inbound pass get tipped and the clock expired.
Miami (22-10) players were visibly upset after – some clutching their heads and others staring blanking as the Loyola players jumped around knowing that it had just advanced to the round of 32 – where they face 3-seed Tennessee on Saturday.
Walker, who scored a team-high 12 points for UM Thursday, did speak to reporters after the game.
“After they made that shot, I mean, it’s definitely a dagger to the heart,” Walker said to reporters after the game. “It definitely hurts seeing a shot like that go down, but I’m proud of my team.”
The Hurricanes, who were making their fourth NCAA tourney appearance under head coach Jim Larranaga, led by as many as seven (43-36) with 14 minutes left in the second half after Dewan Huell sank a mid-range jumper.
Miami continued to stave off the Ramblers’ advances over the next 10 minutes and even held a 60-55 lead with 2:47 left in the game after another Huell jumper.
UM had four players finish in double figures Thursday. Walker’s 12 led while Huell, who tied for a game-high seven rebounds, and Newton each added 11 points. Chris Lykes finished with 10 points.
Ingram was one of four Loyola players to finish with double-digit points. The game’s hero scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Clayton Custer notched a team-high 14 points while Aundre Jackson and Cameron Kutwig finished with 12 and 11 respectively.
The Hurricanes out-shot and out-rebounded the Ramblers – with UM shooting 51 percent from the field compared to Loyola’s 47 percent and winning the battle of the boards 33-27. UM’s undoing was the 16 turnovers it committed – including three critical giveaways over the final two minutes.