News flash for the University of Miami fans who went to bed early Wednesday night: The 10th-ranked Hurricanes men’s basketball team passed its first real test of the season with flying colors, knocking off No. 12 Minnesota 86-81 on the road in front of a raucous sellout crowd at “The Barn.”
The Hurricanes were the first ranked nonconference opponent to visit Williams Arena since 2002, so this was a Big Deal to Gophers fans — so big that there was a line down the block to get into the building. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami Northwestern High alum, was among those in the crowd for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Five takeaways from the game:
1. Dewan Huell is, hands down, the most improved player on the Miami team. The Miami Norland grad arrived on campus last year with much hype, and there was talk he would be one-and-done. Turned out he had some learning to do. He averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds for the season. On Wednesday against the Gophers, Huell scored a career-high 23 points in 27 minutes. He has scored in double figures in six games in a row and is playing with confidence that was lacking as a freshman.
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2. Ja’Quan Newton scored 12 points, matched a career high with nine assists, and had only one turnover. There has never been any question about Newton’s athleticism or ability to drive to the basket. But his assist-turnover ratio needed to get better for the Canes to be a better team. He showed against Minnesota that he’s capable of taking care of the ball and making smart passes.
3. Coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff continue to impress as tacticians. The TV announcers raved about the UM game plan for containing Minnesota big men Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch. By playing three guards and calling pick-and-rolls all night long, Murphy and Lynch were forced to spread out, away from the post, allowing Huell to get easy baskets and dunks inside.
4. Balanced scoring. For the fifth time in six games, the Canes had five players in double figures. Bruce Brown scored a season-high 16, and was one rebound shy of a double-double. He also had five assists.
5. Chris Lykes and Lonnie Walker IV are fun to watch. Lykes, the baby-faced 5-7 (or so they say) point guard, is fast as lightning and hit a couple of critical threes in the second half to help UM pull away. Walker has struggled a bit after summer knee surgery, but had a few slick moves to the basket that showed glimpses of what’s to come.
Up Next: UM plays Princeton on Saturday at 8 p.m. (very unfortunate timing — up against the UM-Clemson ACC football championship game) at AmericanAirlines Arena as part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational. No. 2 Kansas plays Syracuse in the 5:30 game.