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Lonnie Walker scored a game-high 19 points to help Miami snap a three-game losing streak in Notre Dame.

Miami basketball: Hurricanes get much-needed win at Notre Dame

David Wilson

The final whistle blew at the Edmund P. Joyce Center and ESPN sought out the unlikeliest of all Miami basketball rotation players for an on-court interview. Ebuka Izundu, who hadn’t started a game in nearly a year before Monday, stood at midcourt with a microphone in his face as two of his teammates rushed up from behind him to celebrate a 77-74 win against Notre Dame.

“Boooooooook!” Ja’Quan Newton shouted while videobombing the center.

“Yeah, Booook!” Dejan Vasiljevic chimed in.

With the Hurricanes (19-8, 8-7 ACC) in the midst of a three-game losing streak, coach Jim Larranaga turned to Izundu to make his first start of the season against the Fighting Irish (16-12, 6-9) and the center delivered with a career performance. The junior scored 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting. He grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked a season-high 3 shots.

The Monday trip to Notre Dame, Ind., wasn’t exactly a must-win situation for Miami, but it was pretty close. The Hurricanes escaped with their second road win since star shooting guard Bruce Brown sustained a left foot injury.

“I know we’re losing Bruce, so someone had to step up and contribute to the team,” Izundu told ESPN’s Allison Williams on the broadcast after the game. “That’s what I did today, just come out and play hard.”

Even if it wasn’t a must-win, Miami’s meeting with Notre Dame was certainly pivotal. The Hurricanes, which once sat in the top 10 this season, had slipped to .500 in the ACC with four games to go. Once a presumed NCAA Tournament lock, Miami found itself in a position where it couldn’t slip up.

A road win against the Fighting Irish affords the Hurricanes some breathing room. Miami should be favored during each of its final two home games against Boston College and Virginia Tech, and will head to No. 10 North Carolina next week as a significant underdog. If the Hurricanes just take care of business, they should punch their tournament ticket before the ACC Tournament arrives.

Monday, then, was the time for Larranaga to get creative. The coach went with a big lineup against Notre Dame, starting Izundu alongside star post player Dewan Huell and moving guard Chris Lykes to the bench. The Fighting Irish like to use small lineups and a four-out system, so Larranaga countered with girth.

Early on, though, Miami kept pace with Notre Dame because of its back court. The Hurricanes jumped out to a 16-8 lead with 6 points from Newton and 8 more from fellow guard Lonnie Walker. When the Fighting Irish countered with a 10-0 run, Lykes scored 7 points during the final six minutes of the half and Walker hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the Hurricanes to halftime with a 38-29 lead.

Walker was the hero for most of the evening, finishing with a team-high 19 points, including 5 straight with the game tied at 62-62 with 6:01 remaining.

The difference, though, was Izundu. Notre Dame hung close down the stretch. Whenever the Fighting Irish had a chance to close the gap, Izundu was in the perfect place. With 2 minutes to go and Miami holding a 5-point lead, guard Anthony Lawrence fired a 3. It bricked off the rim and Izundu was there, muscling his way through a crowd for a putback layup and 7-point lead.

Almost 2 minutes later, the scene was virtually identical. This time, Newton drove past the 3-point line to throw up a floater. It banked off the rim and in Izundu’s direction. With three Notre Dame players surrounding him, Izundu muscled open a bit of space to grab another rebound and another putback. With 12 seconds left, Miami seized a 77-72 lead and got a critical February road win.

“We need,” Izundu said, “our last four games.”