For the second time in a week, the University of Miami men’s basketball team was tested at home by a smaller but gritty in-state school determined to make a statement. This time, the Hurricanes responded when they had to and staved off the Stetson 87-79 at BankUnited Center in the season-opener.
Five Hurricanes hit double figures, led by senior center Reggie Johnson with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Ten of his points came from the free-throw line. Kenny Kadji was also active inside. He had 12 rebounds to go with 12 points and five assists. Shane Larkin scored 13 points and had six assists. Trey McKinney Jones added 14, and Rion Brown 10.
UM played without senior guard Durand Scott, who must sit out two more games to complete an NCAA suspension imposed last season for receiving improper benefits. Guard Bishop Daniels filled in nicely in his first game since redshirting his freshman season with a foot injury. He scored seven points, hit a three-pointer, and had three steals in 21 minutes.
“I spoke to him before he got in, and I told him the game’s a lot faster than you think it is, and Bishop’s a fast dude,” Julian Gamble said. “When he got in the game, first dead ball, he was like, ‘This game’s fast.’ After that, he settled down and did real good.”
The game was closer than the Canes would have liked, especially following a humbling loss to Division II Saint Leo the previous Friday night.
Miami trailed most of the first half as Stetson made seven of its first nine three-point attempts. Aaron Graham, a Fort Lauderdale native, hit four first-half threes and had 14 of his 21 points at intermission. The Hatters were also dominating inside, despite their height disadvantage. The game was 34-34 at halftime.
But the Hurricanes regrouped, came out with more intensity in the second half, and opened up a 13-point lead on a trio of free throws from McKinney Jones with under eight minutes to go.
Stetson center Adam Pegg, who led Stetson with 22 points, made a pair of three-pointers late in the game, the second of which pulled the Hatters to within three with three minutes left. A minute later, Chris Perez scored to close the gap to 76-74.
Johnson missed an ill-advised three-point attempt with a minute remaining, but made up for it with a layup to put UM up by six. McKinney Jones drove in for another layup to make it 82-74 and the Canes held on as the clock ticked down. UM shot 63.6 percent and scored 53 points in the second half.
“The other night we came out and played bad, but [Friday night] we really turned it up,” Johnson said. “Starting the season, everything’s not going to be perfect. It was a learning experience, but we fought through it.”
UM coach Jim Larranaga was encouraged to see his players combine for 19 assists with just 11 turnovers.
“Our players watched the tape of our game against Saint Leo, and I think they saw things that probably surprised them in terms of lack of effort plays,” Larranaga said. “Our emphasis all week was simplify things defensively, and do what we’re supposed to do on offense. … all in all, we took a nice step forward.”