UM basketball | vs. No. 25 Pitt

Miami Hurricanes, Pitt Panthers matchup to have big Nigerian influence

Miami Hurricanes center Tonye Jekiri (23) dunks against Duke Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins (34) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game in Coral Gables on Jan. 22, 2014.
Miami Hurricanes center Tonye Jekiri (23) dunks against Duke Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins (34) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game in Coral Gables on Jan. 22, 2014.
Alan Diaz / AP

Wednesday: UM men

vs. No. 25 Pittsburgh

When/where: 7 p.m.; BankUnited Center.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; WQAM 560, WVUM 90.5 FM.

Records: UM (11-10, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference); Pitt (18-4, 6-3).

Scouting report: Pitt’s NCAA RPI is 26; Miami’s is 97. … Miami is 0-4 in home ACC games this season. … In their last meeting, Pitt beat UM 84-80 in double overtime on Jan. 10, 2004.

Special to the Miami Herald

There are nine Nigerians who have made it to the NBA, and the smallest of those is 6-9, 270-pound Obinna Ekezie, who played in the league from 1999 to 2005.

Four more jumbo-sized Nigerians — all hoping to end up in the NBA — will be on the court Wednesday night when No. 25 Pitt (18-4, 6-3) visits the Miami Hurricanes (11-10, 2-6) in an Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball game.

Miami is 0-4 so far this season in ACC home games.

The Canes’ Nigerians are 7-0, 235-pound sophomore starter Tonye Jekiri and 6-9, 240-pound senior reserve Raphael Akpejiori.

Pitt’s Nigerians are 6-9, 230-pound senior starter Talib Zanna and 6-10, 260-pound sophomore reserve Joseph Uchebo.

Akpejiori, who didn’t know Jekiri until the latter visited campus during his recruitment, said there is an immediate bond among Nigerian basketball players.

“The circle is really small,” said Akpejiori, 23, who has known Uchebo for eight years but has yet to meet Zanna. “Joseph is my boy — I call him from time to time.”

Hakeem Olajuwon, a Hall of Famer, is by far the most famous player to emerge from Nigeria, and he and Akpejiori share the same hometown, Lagos, which is the country’s largest city.

Among the other Nigerians who have made the NBA are Festus Ezeli, who plays for the Golden State Warriors, Michael Olowokandi, who is no longer in the league, and the late Yinka Dare.

Zanna, Pitt’s center, seems like he could have a chance to make the NBA. He is averaging 12.9 points and is fifth in the ACC in rebounding (7.8).

Of the other three, Jekiri — the only 7-footer — might have the most long-term potential. He has started 10 of Miami’s 21 games and is second on the team with 17 blocks. He is also averaging 4.7 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game.

His biggest struggles have come on offense, where he is averaging 3.7 points and is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor and 46.7 percent from the foul line.

Canes coach Jim Larrañaga said Jekiri’s offense is a work in progress.

“I don’t think we’re going to see anything this year,” the coach said. “I’m hoping we will. But the experience he gains this year will plug him into developing over the spring and summer.’’

Men’s games

•  No. 8 Kansas 69, Baylor 52: Naadir Tharpe scored 22 points, leading the visiting Jayhawks (17-5, 8-1 Big 12) over the Bears (14-8, 2-7). Andrew Wiggins overcame a slow start to score 14 points for Kansas.

•  No. 15 Texas 59, TCU 54: Jonathan Holmes had 20 points and 16 rebounds as the Longhorns (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) beat the host Horned Frogs (9-12, 0-9).

•  Ohio State 76, No. 17 Iowa 69: Aaron Craft had 17 points, six assists and six steals as the Buckeyes (18-5, 5-5 Big Ten) beat the host Hawkeyes (17-6, 6-4).

•  No. 18 Kentucky 80, Mississippi 64: Willie Cauley-Stein had 18 points to lead the host Wildcats (17-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) over the Rebels (15-7, 6-3).

•  No. 24 Memphis 101, Rutgers 69: Austin Nichols scored 18 points, leading the host Tigers (17-5, 7-3 American Athletic Conference) over the Scarlet Knights (9-14, 3-7).

•  North Carolina 75, Maryland 63: Marcus Paige’s 25 points led the host Tar Heels (15-7, 5-4 ACC) over the Terrapins (13-10, 5-5).

•  Clemson 45, Georgia Tech 41: Jordan Roper had 12 points as the host Tigers (15-6, 6-3 ACC) beat the Yellow Jackets (12-11, 3-7).

Women’s games

•  No. 1 Connecticut 102, SMU 41: Bria Hartley scored 21 points and Breanna Stewart added 20 as the host Huskies (24-0, 10-0 AAC) opened the game with a 19-0 run and routed the Mustangs (14-8, 5-6).

•  No. 4 Louisville 74, Central Florida 59: Asia Taylor’s 19 points led the Cardinals (23-1, 11-0 AAC) over the host Knights (9-13, 2-9).

This report was supplemented with material from Miami Herald wire services.

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