The UM basketball team got one final tuneup Tuesday night before jumping into Atlantic Coast Conference play.
With the ACC opener against Syracuse coming Saturday, No. 13 Miami pulled away in the final minutes to hold off a spirited effort from Princeton and earn a 76-64 win at the BankUnited Center.
“That was exactly what the doctor ordered,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We needed a challenge. We needed a gut check. We needed someone to really test us. We needed to fall behind and have to come back.”
After hopping into the top 15 of both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time this season on Monday, the Hurricanes wrapped up their non-conference schedule 11-1 — the lone defeat coming on a buzzer-beating 78-77 loss against Northeastern on Nov. 27.
The Canes were happy to get over a game where they appeared rusty at times and dive into conference competition where mostly every game will be as highly contested.
“We’re very excited,” said guard Ja’Quan Newton. “I think ACC plays the best [basketball], and our team is ready and we’re very focused.”
Newton came off the bench to score all 13 of his points in the second half. He came through in clutch moments with a jumper to give the Canes a 66-60 lead with 2:32 to play and got UM within one with 8:51 remaining on a three-point play.
Angel Rodriguez led the Canes with 14 points — 10 of them coming in that second half — and five assists.
UM trailed Princeton (7-4) by as many as seven midway through the second half.
Players disputed the notion that they were rusty during difficult stretches Tuesday from a week off after a 95-49 mauling of La Salle.
“I think we had a good week of practice,” said Davon Reed, who added 13 points and led the team with nine rebounds. “They’re just a good team, and we responded well when we needed to.”
Ivan Cruz Uceda hit a pair of key three-pointers in the second half and scored eight points. Tonye Jekiri had seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
The Hurricanes outrebounded Princeton, which entered as the No. 1 team nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, 37-27 and collected nine offensive boards.
UM went into halftime trailing 30-27 following a 9-0 run by Princeton to close out the first half capped by a three-pointer from Amir Bell, who finished with 17 points to lead the Tigers. The Canes missed their last five field-goal attempts of the half to enter the locker room on a scoring drought of four minutes and 31 seconds.
Princeton also scored 13 points off Miami’s seven first-half turnovers.
“We were creating their best offense,” Larrañaga said.
A bright spot early was junior forward Kamari Murphy. The Oklahoma State transfer started 4 for 4 from the field and finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks — tying for the team lead in minutes played with 30 with Jekiri and Reed.
▪ Saturday’s ACC home opener against Syracuse is slated for a 2:30 p.m. tip. The Orange kick off their conference schedule Wednesday at Pittsburgh.