At first glance, a 73-61 University of Miami victory over Rutgers might not seem like the kind of win to excite Hurricanes fans. But three Scarlet Knight statistics grabbed the UM coaches’ attention and put the players on high alert heading into Wednesday night’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at the Watsco Center.
Rutgers entered the game 6-0 for the first time since 1975-76, the season the Scarlet Knights made an undefeated run to the Final Four.
Also, Rutgers led the nation in offensive rebounding (18.7 per game) and ranked third in rebounding margin (plus-18). Determined not to get dominated on the glass, UM coach Jim Larrañaga made a lineup change and gave 6-11 freshman Dewan Huell his first start at center alongside leading rebounder Kamari Murphy.
Huell, a McDonald’s All-American from Miami Norland High, had just one rebound and two points in the first half. But the Hurricanes as a team crashed the boards early and often. They had a 16-4 rebounding edge in the opening minutes and held the Scarlet Knights to just six offensive rebounds for the half.
“We told the guys, ‘If we don’t rebound, we won’t even be in the game,’ ” Larrañaga said. “The best way to beat them is to put your best rebounders on the court. We did a good job keeping them off the backboards, and that led to some fast breaks.”
By the end of the night, UM won the rebounding battle 44-30.
“They did a real good job on the backboards, give them a lot of credit,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “They played angry. This is as good a rebounding team as we’re going to face. Our tapes are out. When you’re leading the nation in offensive rebounds, people notice. Larrañaga is one of the best coaches out there.”
Miami (5-2) took a 25-10 lead on a dunk by Anthony Lawrence, and seemed to be cruising. But the Scarlet Knights clawed back and trailed by six at halftime.
Huell opened the second half with a dunk and scored six points during a 17-0 run that stretched Miami’s lead to 53-32. During that stretch, Huell showed that he is not only a force in the paint but can also dribble and drive quite deftly for a big man. He finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I knew I was starting since [Tuesday], so I went to sleep happy and woke up even happier,” Huell said. “My whole hallway probably woke up with my music. It was great. This being my hometown. A Miami, Florida, freshman. Number 20. I had at least 20 people here.”
Another goal for the Canes on Wednesday was getting senior captain Davon Reed back into a scoring groove. He shot 27 percent the previous four games but went 6 of 10 for 18 points with six rebounds.
Freshman Bruce Brown had a big impact with 11 points and nine rebounds. Ja’Quan Newton added 11 points and six rebounds, and Lawrence chipped in eight.