In the 10 days since having their four-game win streak snapped, the Miami Hurricanes keyed in on two areas that needed improvement: assist-to-turnover ratio and rebounding.
On Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes struggled at both, almost blowing an 18-point second-half lead in a 63-58 victory over Coppin State at BankUnited Center.
Despite the added work since losing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to Minnesota on Dec. 5, the Hurricanes were outrebounded 54-36. They notched 13 assists and 20 turnovers.
They did, however, score 32 points on 33 turnovers. Each player got on the scoreboard.
“I think the lesson of the game is when Miami has focus and really sticks to the game plan we’re pretty good, and when we don’t we’re just not good enough,” coach Katie Meier said. “That’s the truth.”
Miami opened on a 12-5 run over the first five minutes, shooting 57 percent by making four of its seven field goals. Sophomore guard Caprice Dennis scored seven of those points.
The Hurricanes employed a full-court press that created four turnovers and six fast-break points during that span. Coppin State (4-5) trimmed the deficit to 14-12 with 12:59 left before senior guard Krystal Saunders connected on a three-pointer.
The Eagles took their first lead, 22-21, at 7:07, cooling down the Hurricanes’ offense to 38 percent and forcing six turnovers. Miami closed on an 11-6 run, which included the final six points, to take a 32-26 halftime lead.
Saunders collected 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting — all from behind the arc — but didn’t score in the second half, limited by a tight hip. Dennis added nine points, but fell short of double digits for the first time this season.
Junior guard Suriya McGuire gave the Hurricanes a spark less than two minutes into the second half, racing down on a fast break for a block. Miami went on a 21-8 run, building up its largest lead (18) with 7:52 left.
Coppin State answered with a 13-0 run, cutting an 18-point deficit to four in 2:28. Eight points came from the foul line and a pair of three-pointers by senior guard Ashle Craig.
Senior forward Larrisa Carter recorded a double-double with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Senior forward Maria Brown responded with a pair of free throws and a jumper for four of her eight second-half points as the Hurricanes jumped out to a 60-52 advantage.
“We weren’t scoring, and I knew it was my job to come in and step up as a senior and as a captain and get my team out of that hole,” said Brown, who finished with a team-high 12 points and four rebounds.
After opening the season 2-3, a youthful Miami team has improved to 5-2 at home and 6-3 overall. The Hurricanes visit Tempe, Ariz., Saturday to face Arizona State.
“Up 18, I thought we were safe, but we weren’t because we had a team that came onto our court and played a heck of a lot harder than we did,” Meier said. “So no lead is safe.
“Obviously we got that lesson learned. When we’re not focused and really in sync we don’t look so good, and when we’re focused and really smart and understand what we’re doing, I like the team.
“I guess it’s, ‘How dare you relax, Miami?’ We’re not a top-10 team. We have been in the past, but right now we’ve got to be a lot more hungry and humble. We relaxed on a team that was outplaying us to begin with, and that’s youth, I guess, because of the experience of not losing a game like that. We came close to losing that ballgame right there. If we can get this lesson in a win I feel fortunate as a coach.”
A donation fund has been set up to help Saunders and her family recover after an electrical fire caused her family’s home to burn down in West Park. Visit Hurricanesports.com for more information.