There was no need for a scoreboard to display the result of the University of Miami’s stunning 69-67 season-opening exhibition loss against Division II Saint Leo on Friday night. The scene on the court after the game said it all.
The Hurricanes, who had received votes in the preseason Top 25 poll, trudged off silently with their heads down while the Lions, who play in the Sunshine State League, celebrated, slapped high fives and laughed as they headed to their locker room to pack for what surely was a festive bus ride back to the Tampa area.
The smaller, but grittier Lions led for all but two minutes and were ahead by as many as 13 well into the second half. They tied the Canes with 33 rebounds despite their significant height disadvantage.
“Embarrassing,” said dejected UM center Reggie Johnson, who finished with seven points, one rebound and four turnovers in 13 minutes.
“They hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond,” said UM guard Trey McKinney Jones, who led the Canes with 19 points, including three three-pointers during a flurry of five consecutive UM threes to tie the score at 56-56 with 6:52 to go.
UM coach Jim Larranaga was disappointed with the lack of energy and focus at practice the previous few days and warned his players.
“I told them you play like you practice, and if you play like this [Friday night], you’re going to be very disappointed with the result. ... Saint Leo’s team sent us a message, and the players heard it loud and clear,” he said.
Saint Leo’s coach was much happier after the game.
“Are we automatically in the NCAA Tournament now? Doesn’t that qualify us?” Saint Leo coach Lance Randall said. “This win is really big for us. … It’s something our guys will have with them for the rest of their lives. “... I’m so proud our unselfishness and grittiness carried us through to the end.”
UM boasts five players 6-10 or taller, and St. Leo’s tallest players are 6-8, and yet, Miami’s big men sat most of the game because Larranaga said they had trouble guarding the Lions and scoring on them. Kenny Kadji, UM’s 6-11 forward, went 1 for 6 and wound up with six points, four rebounds and four turnovers in 26 minutes.
Hurricane point guard Shane Larkin had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists but went down hard with 5:22 to go with cramps and limped off the court. Trent Thomas led the Lions with 23 points, including four three-pointers.
About the only true entertainment for UM fans came during halftime, when 7-year-old dribbling phenom K.J. Farfan performed his tricks.
UM players sounded optimistic in recent interviews, predicting they would “make noise’’ in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Larranaga, asked about those comments Friday night, replied: “Actions speak louder than words.”