It took 32 days for the University of Miami men’s basketball team to win its first home game of 2014, and Saturday’s 64-49 victory over Norfolk State came just in the nick of time.
The Hurricanes may have started doubting themselves after losing all three January home games, and four of the past five Atlantic Coast Conference games, so the out-of-conference game against the Spartans was a welcome break.
Trailing 19-18 early, UM went on a 21-2 run to take command, pulled ahead by 22 with 14:19 to go, and never was threatened again. Four Canes wound up in double figures, a welcome sight on the box score for a team that has struggled to put points up all season.
Rion Brown led with 15, Manu Lecomte had 13, Garrius Adams had 12 and Donnavan Kirk added 10. Brown, Adams and Kirk were also relentless on the glass. Adams led UM with 10 rebounds, Brown had seven, and Kirk had seven and three blocks.
“It was very important for us to get more comfortable at home, getting that taste back in our mouths of winning games at home,’’ Kirk said. “It was a big game for us. I still think we didn’t play as well as we should have played, but it was a good stepping stone for moving forward. We’ve got Pitt on Wednesday, so it was a good game for us to get into a rhythm.’’
Coach Jim Larrañaga was delighted to finally see the home crowd leave BankUnited Center happy.
Asked how important the win was, the coach grinned and replied: “Our first home win in 2014? It’s pretty important.’’
Larrañaga has been coaching for four decades, long enough to keep things in perspective. Although the Canes (11-10, 2-6 ACC) are not off to a perfect conference start like last year’s team, he is not panicking.
“What I told the players is we have some things that need to be improved to be a contender every night,’’ he said. “People say, `Well, you lost four of out five.’ Yeah, to Duke, Syracuse, that’s the reason. The other team was really, really good and we’re in the game for the most part, but you have to execute, especially in the last five minutes. You can’t turn the ball over. That’s been a challenge all year. Tonight we did a very good job.’’
Larrañaga felt the key to the game was switching from zone defense to man-to-man late in the first half and putting in senior forward Erik Swoope with just over seven minutes to go before intermission. Swoope immediately got a steal, and in the final two minutes of the half had two rebounds, a tip-in, two blocks, and made life miserable for the Spartans with his physical play.
“[Swoope’s] activity to end the first half was terrific,’’ Larrañaga said. “We went to our scramble defense and trapped them a few times, speeded them up, were able to stop them and get some very quick baskets. That was the key.’’
Norfolk State coach Robert Jones agreed his team got a bit flustered when UM switched its defense.
“We had prepared for the zone, and were getting pretty good looks, so when they went to man, we had to switch and adjust,’’ Jones said. “We got into a hole. ... It’s hard to be down 22 to a team like Miami and have to fight all the way back.’’
The Spartans closed to 11with eight minutes to go but never got closer.
Norfolk State was missing leading scorer Malcolm Hawkins, who has a neck injury. The Spartans were led by Pendarvis Williams’ 21 points.
The Canes played without forward James Kelly, who has a sprained ankle.