They had just won the Puerto Rico Tipoff championship last Sunday night, just knocked off their second Top 25 team in a row, and the University of Miami Hurricanes were jumping up and down in a circle, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
Sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton stopped the celebration for a moment to give teammates a little lecture. He reminded them that they started last season undefeated, won a November tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, got to No. 15 in the AP poll and then lost home games by 13 to Green Bay and by 28 to Eastern Kentucky.
Those two losses cost them on Selection Sunday in March. The Canes were passed over for the NCAA Tournament and had to settle for the NIT. They wound up making the NIT final and used that as a springboard for this season.
UM is off to another hot start heading into Friday’s 4 p.m. home game against Northeastern. The Hurricanes are undefeated at 5-0, ranked 15th and expectations are high. They insist they won’t let up like they did last season.
“I knew this was a different team because right after we won the Puerto Rico tournament, we’re celebrating on the court, before we get the trophy and Ja’Quan said: ‘We were in this position last year, won a tournament, we came back home but didn’t take care of business. Let’s make sure we don’t do that this year. We stay hungry,’ ” Angel Rodriguez said. “When I heard it from him, a sophomore, I knew that we have a chance to be special. I knew that the team is truly headed the right way.’’
Newton has taken on a more prominent role this season. He is averaging 21.4 minutes per game, compared to 13.5 minutes last season. He is scoring an average of 11.8 points, nearly triple the four points he averaged last season.
And he isn’t afraid to speak out.
“I just wanted everybody to know that we’re not done,’’ Newton said of his pep talk. “We’re celebrating right now, but we’re not done. We still have work to do.’’
After the Puerto Rico on-court celebration, Newton posed for a photo with the trophy and posted it on Twitter with the caption: “Mom, this is for you!!!!! Love you.’’
Newton’s mother, Lisa Brown, died of breast cancer during his senior year of high school, a day before he scored 33 points in the Pennsylvania state championship game. He has her named tattooed on his left shoulder, with the inscription: A Mother’s Love is Priceless.
“Every time I go on the floor and play, it’s always for her,’’ Newton said. “She was my biggest fan, biggest supporter. She went to every game. She would be the first to tell me what I did wrong, too. She was very blunt.
“My mom is like an angel up there carrying the ball into the goal for me. That’s what I think before each game, that my mom has the basketball every time I shoot and puts it in the goal for me.’’
Friday: No. 15 UM men vs. Northeastern
When/where: 4 p.m.; BankUnited Center.
Records: UM 5-0; Northeastern 4-1.
TV/radio: ESPN3; WHIM 1080, WVUM 90.5 FM.
Scouting report: UM entered the Top 25 after winning the Puerto Rico Tipoff with back-to-back double-digit wins over then-No. 16 Utah and No. 22 Butler. … Six Canes are averaging double figures. … Northeastern won 23 games last season, lost by four to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament and is led by guard David Walker.
Friday: UM women vs. Milwaukee
When/where: 1 p.m.; BankUnited Center.
Records: UM 5-0; Milwaukee 1-1.
Scouting report: The Canes kick off their three-day Thanksgiving tournament against Milwaukee, which lost to Florida Atlantic and beat University of Missouri-Kansas City. … UM faces La Salle on Sunday.