In My Opinion

Win signals progress for Miami Hurricanes basketball

 

lrobertson@miamiherald.com

The memories of the University of Miami’s last significant triumph over a team from outside its own conference were getting musty. It was way back at the beginning of the century, 11 years ago, when the Hurricanes upset the Hoosiers of Indiana.

So when UM defeated No. 13 Michigan State 67-59 on Wednesday with a combination of deadly three-point aim and diligent defense, the Canes created new memories, with the help of their most ardent fans.

It was a rare sight — UM students mobbing center court as the buzzer sounded, surrounding the players, bobbing up and down alongside them, even carrying Durand Scott off toward the locker room.

The elation of the scene following the intensity of the game made UM worthy of its place in the nationally televised ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Coach Jim Larranaga surveyed the big orange mass and beamed. The victory over one of the premier programs in the sport and the loud crowd of eyewitnesses meant one thing, even if it’s only November: Progress.

“This is what college basketball is all about,” he said. “In fact, this is what being a college student is all about. You’re going to forget your chemistry class and your English paper, but this game will be the buzz [Thursday]. They’ll be saying, ‘Were you at the game? Ahhh, you missed it!’”

Reggie Johnson said the boost in energy from the crowd of 5,791 was a treat.

“They were rocking,” he said. “That’s what we feel when we’re at Duke and North Carolina.”

Yes, UM felt like a real college hoops hotbed for two hours. The hope is that the campus will keep cooking on a consistent basis. Louisville joined the ACC Wednesday, and it’s never too early to start thinking of cheers for Rick Pitino’s visits.

Larranaga was pleased at the way his team snapped back from an embarrassing 63-51 loss at Florida Gulf Coast two weeks ago to befuddle Coach Tom Izzo’s perennial powerhouse.

UM limited the Spartans to 41 percent shooting, corralled star guard Keith Appling and neutralized their front court.

“My experiment with two bigs is about over,” Izzo said hoarsely, rubbing his temples. “We weren’t covering ball screens. Just ridiculous. We were not very cerebral on that.

“I told [Appling] it was the worst game he’s had, but give them credit — their guards wore him down.”

Larranaga’s previous notable upset of Izzo’s team was during George Mason’s 2006 run to the NCAA Final Four. UM’s second-year coach utilized a seamless rotation Wednesday to keep the Spartans out of sync and breathing heavily as they bonked jump shots, free throws and even a dunk that Trey McKinney-Jones converted into collateral damage with a shot-clock-beating three-pointer that put UM ahead by 10 with seven minutes left.

McKinney-Jones and Shane Larkin combined for eight of 11 threes and 33 points. Every time MSU mounted a challenge, they shot it down.

Scott, rounding into form in his second game back after a six-game suspension, gave UM his usual tough leadership.

It was a big game for Johnson, who upheld UM’s priority of staying with the taller Spartans on the boards. UM allowed only five points off offensive rebounds in the second half, when they outscored MSU 40-28. Johnson led all players with 11 rebounds.

Late in the second half, Johnson leaped across the lane to grab a rebound off a missed free throw, drew a foul and sank both ensuing free throws with his soft touch to put UM ahead 63-53 with 1:50 remaining.

Then he stormed down the court and mauled a shot, prompting chants of “Reggie! Reggie!” from fans.

After a 20-13 campaign last year, during which UM players missed 108 games due to injury or NCAA suspensions, Larranaga is looking forward to a less cluttered season. And much more noise.

“The fans deserved to be there with us, sharing the adrenaline,” Scott said. “It was about 150 degrees out there.”

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