Johnson putback lifts Canes to win

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Capping off a back-and-forth game in electrifying fashion, redshirt senior Zach Johnson jammed home a putback dunk with 0.6 seconds remaining, as the University of Miami men’s basketball team topped Fresno State, 78-76, in the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy Friday at Titan Gym on the campus of Cal State Fullerton.

The Hurricanes (5-0) advanced to Sunday’s title game, scheduled for 10:30 ET against the victor of a matchup between Seton Hall and Hawai’i. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

The fourth Hurricane to score at least 20 points this season, Johnson finished the game with a team season-high 24 points, shooting 8-of-16 from the field and 7-of-11 from the charity stripe.

Johnson was joined by sophomore guard Chris Lykes (17 points), junior guard Dejan Vasiljevic (12) and senior center Ebuka Izundu (10 points) in double figures, while Lykes also swiped away a team-high three steals, Vasiljevic converted on four 3-pointers and Izundu grabbed a team-high six rebounds.

Braxton Huggins (28) and Deshon Taylor (25) combined for 53 of Fresno State’s 76 points. The game featured a dozen ties and 11 lead changes.

After Taylor tied the game with three free throws with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, Miami came back down the floor and Lykes attempted the potential game-winning 3-pointer which bounced off the front of the rim. Making a run from the top of the key, Johnson found space in front of the Bulldog defenders and got his hands above the rim to finish the put-back dunk to secure the 78-76 victory.

Miami survived a hot Fresno State offense in the offense. The Bulldogs hit on 60 percent (15-of-25) of its field-goal attempts in the first half but were limited to 36 percent shooting in the second half to finish at 46.6 percent. Miami shot 43.9 percent (25-57) for the game. Fresno State drilled 9-of-23 from 3-point range, while Miami was 7-for-22. The Canes were strong at the free-throw line, hitting 21-for-28, while FS connected on 13-of-18.

Miami forced 20 Fresno State turnovers and has now created 40 turnovers in the tournament. The 20 turnovers today led to 16 UM points. Against Fresno State’s pressing defense, Miami committed 11 turnovers.

The Hurricanes, led by Johnson’s 15 points through the opening frame, saw themselves trailing at the break, 41-37, as Fresno State closed out the half shooting 60-percent (15-25) from the field, led by guard Braxton Huggins, who closed out the period with 20 of his game-high 28 points. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were limited to 41.9 percent shooting (13-31) from the field, but saw their bench outscore Fresno State’s 17-2.

Out of the break, Miami came out firing on all cylinders, converting on four of its first five second half field-goal attempts and forcing the Bulldogs to miss each of their first nine shots, to turn a 10-0 run into a 47-41 advantage with 16:43 to play. The Bulldogs were once again able to rally back with a 9-0 run of their own to jump back in front, 50-47.

Following a converted and-one opportunity by Johnson to put the Canes back in front 53-50, Vasiljevic went toe-to-toe with Huggins, as the guards exchanged four consecutive 3-pointers.

Trailing 70-68 with 4:12 remaining, Lykes knocked down a clutch 3-pointer, opening up a personal 5-0 run. On the attempt to push the lead to three, 73-70, Lykes split a pair of Bulldog defenders in transition and buried an easy layup.

Holding a three-point lead, 76-73, Johnson fouled Taylor on a 3-point attempt, and he hit all three attempts to tie the game at 76-76 with 13 seconds remaining, setting up Miami’s late theatrics.

Miami Game Notes – Fresno State Game

Miami 78, Fresno State 76

• Miami advances to play Hawai’i or Seton Hall in the championship game at 10:30 pm ET/7:30 PT Sunday.

• Miami is 5-0 for the fourth time under Jim Larrañaga.

• Zach Johnson scored a season-high 24 points. With 15 points in the first half, he matched his season high for a game.

• Johnson now has 1,409 career points (1,344 at Florida Gulf Coast, 65 at Miami).

• Johnson’s 24-point output is the most by a Miami player this season.

• Led by Johnson, Miami’s bench out-scored Fresno State’s reserves, 26-2.

• DJ Vasiljevic hit four 3-pointers and has canned three or more 3-pointers in every game this season.

• Miami started the second half on a 10-0 run while Fresno State missed its first nine field-goal attempts.

• Miami allowed its most points in a first half this season (41) and trailed at the half for the second time (Bethune-Cookman by one point).

• Miami has forced 40 turnovers in two games in the tournament (20 against both La Salle and Fresno State).

• Junior forward Dewan Hernandez was withheld from competition for the fifth straight game as the University and the NCAA review his eligibility.

Postgame Quotes

Coach Jim Larranaga, Miami – Opening Statement: “I thought Fresno State was able to get the tempo they wanted to start the first half but when Zach Johnson came in the game he really calmed us down. We quit turning the ball over, started to get better shots and then the lead started see-sawing back and forth. We got into some early foul trouble in our frontcourt so it made us smaller and we were able to survive until halftime. In the second half, I thought we played really well and it was a great contest. They (Fresno State) are very good and I thought we played really well. It came down to one possession and one missed shot that turned into an offensive rebound dunk. Zach had himself a great game and deserves a lot of credit for helping us win this.”

On Zach’s performance: “I look at like we have seven starters. I didn’t start Zach at the beginning game of the but I did for the second half and moved Chris Lykes to the wing. Zach is bigger and stronger against their press and can see a bit better over it. He and DJ Vasilijevic handled the pressure very well. We ran a different offensive set and Zach was very good at making the decision of whether to score or dish and he had three big assists, those were important plays. The defense collapsed to stop him from scoring at a high rate but what makes a guy really good is if he can make his teammates better and he did that.”

Guard Zach Johnson, Miami – On game-winning tip in: “I thought Chris (Lykes) had a great look. There was about six or eight seconds left and I knew that our best chance to win, if he missed it, was to get on the offensive board. I took off, the ball just bounced my way and I put it back in.”

On playing for Championship: “It means a lot. A lot of teams don’t get to play for championships throughout the season and to have the opportunity to play in this championship is great for our team and our program and it’s a good feeling.”

Coach Justin Hutson, Fresno State – Opening Statement: “That’s a good team over there. Very well coached. Not a surprise. Coach has been doing it for a long time and I was proud of our guy’s fight throughout the game. There were ups and downs but if we had a little less turnovers, it would have helped us. Twenty turnovers are not going to beat a team like that.”

On foul trouble – “Get them out and get them back in, try to make sure you keep them fresh so they don’t make a mental mistake while they’re tired. They recognize they have four fouls but sometimes when you get tired, fatigue makes us all do silly things. Get them out, get them in, keep reminding them so they don’t pick up the pressure. “

Guard Braxton Huggins, Fresno State – On hot hand: “I guess a little bit. I was just trying to get it going on defense and get some stops. That was the main thing our team was focused on, trying to get some stops to win the game. “

On the end of the game Miami’s missed three-point attempt: “Yeah, I definitely did (think we were going to overtime). That possession wasn’t the one that made us lose the game. Like coach said, throughout the game we had silly turnovers, we had our pick-and-roll issues and our defense wasn’t that good. We have to get back and work on that, watch some film. But the last couple of possessions weren’t the ones that made us lose the game.”