Miami welcomed newly-minted, No. 1 Virginia to the Watsco Center on Wednesday night—and while the Hurricanes played host, it was the Cavaliers who made themselves at home by way of their standard suffocating defense, en route to a 59-50 victory.

The Canes were again without Bruce Brown—out for the rest of the regular season, and then some—but did welcomed back head coach Jim Larranaga. The veteran coach spent last Saturday ill in the locker room at Chestnut Hill as Boston College held Miami scoreless the final 6:17 in the eventual 72-70 upset.

Even more frustrating; a significant RPI drop for the Canes after falling to the Eagles. Prior to the Virginia loss, Miami tumbled from 19th to 25th in the RPI, which tends to happen when falling to a Boston College squad ranked 82nd.

Bracketology “experts” had the Canes pegged somewhere around a seven seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which also took a hit with another conference loss on Wednesday night.

Back-to-back losses also dropped the Canes to 18-7—7-6 in ACC play—with home games against Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech remaining, as well as road trips to Notre Dame and North Carolina.

Despite Virginia holding Miami’s starters to 28-percent shooting, the Canes received a bright spot in freshman Chris Lykes scoring a career-high 19 points—going 6-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-7 beyond the arc—against a stout Cavaliers’ defense.

Lykes saw 17 of his 19 points coming in the second half as the Hurricanes rallied, but never got closer than a three-point deficit with 14:30 remaining—which in itself seemed a mini-miriacle after Miami’s slow start.

Fresh off a one-point overtime loss against rival Virginia Tech over the weekend, Virginia trekked to Coral Gables determined to prove their deserved the top-spot in the rankings—and played like it early on.

Turnovers and missed shots plagued both squads for almost two minutes, before Ty Jerome knocked down two free throws in a 40-second span—while Miami didn’t score it’s first points until over four minutes into the game; over a 10-minute scoring drought going back to the close-out at Boston College over the weekend.

Trailing 13-5 at the 12:53 mark courtesy of a Devon Hall jumper, both squads again went scoreless for over two monies before a Dejan Vasiljevic jumper cut the Canes’ deficit to six.

Ebuka Izundu made his lay-up after a missed attempt and rebound and after a Cavaliers’ turnover and Ja’Quan Newton assist, Sam Waardenburg hit a three-pointer that closed out a seven-point Miami run, cutting the Virginia lead to one.

The Canes’ comeback proved short-lived as the offensive drought soon returned and the Cavaliers tore off a 13-0 run over the next seven minutes—eventually taking a 27-16 lead into the locker room.

Miami opened the second half with a 10-2 run, pulling to within three after a Lonnie Walker lay-up, but as was the case all game—Virginia was always ready with the counterpunch.

The Canes were seemingly still in it over the next few minutes, shorthanded yet going blow-for-blow with the Cavaliers—until the 8:16 mark when a three-pointer by De’Andre Hunter signaled an official turning of the tide and close out for the top-ranked squad, pushing the lead to nine.

A dunk by Hunter, followed by two made free throws and a lay-up—a 6-2 run by the Hoos in just over two minutes—pushed the lead to 13 and the Canes couldn’t recover. With just over four points remaining against a defensive squad like Virginia, Miami was at a point where it had to keep pace, but couldn’t.

The Canes outscored the Cavs 12-8 down the stretch—though too little, too late.

Thankfully for Miami, no more Virginia-like squads loom with five regular season games remaining. North Carolina is the lone ranked squad and the Canes get three of those match-ups at home.

Two more victories get the Canes to the 20-win mark in a spirited ACC, while anything more than that only improves post-season chances.

Miami is currently ranked seventh in the ACC standings and gets a home crack at sixth-ranked Virginia Tech, as well as fourth-ranked North Carolina—leaving the Canes in position to gain some ground with some solid play these next few weeks.

Saturday’s home foe—Syracuse—is currently ninth in conference, while a road game against 12th-seeded Notre Dame seems less daunting against an Irish squad currently 5-8 in ACC play.

While Miami continues adjusting to Life-Without-Bruce, the emergence of bench players thus into starting roles—like Lykes—are necessary as Larranaga coaches his kids up to close strong. The Canes need an impressive-enough ACC run and to re-find their groove when Brown is back in the fold and ready to play.

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