GREENSBORO (AP) — Erik Swoope and Miami didn’t figure out how to beat the Atlantic Coast Conference’s worst team until the league tournament.
Swoope scored 14 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 2:42 left to help the Hurricanes beat Virginia Tech 57-53 in Wednesday’s first round, their first win in three tries against a team unable to beat anyone else in league play.
Rion Brown scored 15 points to lead the 10th-seeded Hurricanes (17-15), who hit four free throws in the final 8 seconds to hang on against the last-place Hokies (9-22). Miami shot just 39 percent but the reigning tournament champion did just enough to advance, hitting 16 of 19 free throws.
It wasn’t pretty basketball and it was hardly a performance that builds extra confidence going into Thursday’s second round against seventh-seeded North Carolina State and league player of the year T.J. Warren. That didn’t matter for coach Jim Larranaga, who has been making do with less after last year’s championship run.
“I told our guys: it’s a great game, it’s a great environment,” Larranaga said. “You’ve got to enjoy this moment.”
Swoope came up with several key plays late, starting with his go-ahead basket that was the last for either team. Then, after an intentional missed free throw with Virginia Tech down two, Jarell Eddie beat Swoope to an offensive rebound only to have Swoope block the shot from behind as Eddie tried to go up against Tonye Jekiri in the paint.
“After the ball came off the rim, it bounced to me,” Eddie said. “I was kind of behind the basket, so I just tried to gather myself and draw some contact going back up. It was a bang-bang play, so it was tough for the referees, and it was a no-call. They got the ball back, and that was game.”
Swoope got the rebound and hit two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to seal it.
“At the very end of the game, I was actually frustrated with myself because we knew they were going to miss the shot and it tipped right out of my hands,” Swoope said. “So when Jarell Eddie got it, I just wanted to do everything I could to help my team win that game.”
A year ago, Miami followed its first ACC regular-season title with a three-game run to the tournament title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But star Shane Larkin and just about the rest of that team departed after the year, leaving behind just four returning scholarship players.
At least returnees Swoope — who threw down two crowd-wowing dunks in the first half — and Brown stepped forward Wednesday.
Brown shot just 3-for-13 but made 7 of 8 free throws, including two with 8 seconds left to give Miami a 55-52 lead. He had shot just 10-for-21 at the line in the last four games.
Eddie finished with 16 points to lead the 15th-seeded Hokies, who closed a miserable second year filled with injuries and ugly losses under coach James Johnson. They shot 40 percent, but went just 6-for-23 (26 percent) after halftime.
Virginia Tech finished last with a 2-16 league record with both wins coming against Miami. They had every chance to take this one, too. Virginia Tech shot 55 percent in the first half and led 32-31 at the break before going cold from 3-point range, though the Hokies led 52-51 on Eddie’s 3 at the 3:22 mark before Swoope’s basket.
Virginia Tech made just 9 of 17 free throws, including two misses by Joey van Zegeren with 9.5 seconds left and his team down one.
Virginia Tech lost 17 of 18 to close the year — all since Jan. 1 — and has lost 32 of 38 ACC regular-season and tournament games under Johnson.
“He has been evaluating the program since he’s taken the job,” Johnson said of new athletic director Whit Babcock. “I’m sure we’ll sit down and talk and continue to evaluate the program, me and where we go from here. I’m optimistic that I’ll be back and I’ll be the head coach here at Virginia Tech and I look forward to coaching these young men and us moving forward.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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