Something was missing at BankUnited Center.
Sure, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wasn’t there, but that was understandable given the nine-game Atlantic Coast Conference suspension he is serving.
But the real mystery on Saturday concerned the whereabouts of the Miami Hurricanes shooters.
Fortunately for the 13tth-ranked Canes, they found three players — Sheldon McCllellan, Ja’Quan Newton and Kamari Murphy — who could shoot proficiently, and that happened just in time to rally past Syracuse for a 64-51 win.
Miami (12-1, 1-0) rallied from a 12-point, first-half deficit that was caused by awful shooting. The Canes shot 19.2 percent from the floor in the first half. Miami missed its first 13 three-point tries.
Free throws weren’t falling either. At one point in the first half, the Canes had earned just three of an available 10 points on the foul line, including the missed front ends of one-and-ones.
Miami’s poor shooting was surprising because the Canes entered the game shooting 51 percent from the field for the season, including 41.2 percent on three-pointers. But McClellan said Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone was part of the problem.
“In the first half, we just walked the ball up the court against that zone, which is really annoying,” said McClellan, who had a game-high 22 points, including 12 of 14 from the line and 5 of 11 from the floor. “We wanted to push the ball in the second half, and that’s what we did.”
McClellan said the zone used by Syracuse (10-5, 0-2) is long — the Orange’s five starters measure 6-4, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9.
“It’s hard to pass the ball,” McClellan said. “It’s in the way. You have to find the right angle. A shot that is normally there against man to man is not there [against this zone]."
When shots don’t fall, teams tend to attack the rim, and that’s what the Canes did. Murphy got them going with a spectacular rebound/dunk with 18:21 left in the second half. McClellan followed with his own dunk, off a pass from Murphy, and Miami trailed 27-24.
Then, with 16:54 left in the game, Newton, a reserve point guard who is having a significant sophomore season, checked in, and that was the beginning of the end for Syracuse.
In the next nine minutes, until he was replaced by starter Angel Rodriguez, the Canes went from down three points to up by seven.
Newton finished with 14 points — all in the second half — and added four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Known for his ability to finish at the rim, Newton went three for five from the floor, including two of two on three-pointers.
“I thought the difference in the game was when Ja’Quan stepped up and hit those two threes,” said Mike Hopkins, who is filling in for Boeheim.
Newton said Syracuse played “off” him, in a sense daring him to shoot.
“I noticed it in the first half, but I didn’t shoot,” Newton said. “In the second half, I shot confidently. … I do what I do best [drive]. But if somebody gives me the shot, I’m confident enough to make it. Syracuse did that, and I made them pay.”
Syracuse, as it turns out, tried to sign Newton out of Philadelphia’s Neumann-Goretti, but the Canes got him instead.
“We tried to keep him out of the lane,” Hopkins said of Newton. “He has a lot of pride. He’s got that city [style], knows how to get in the paint.
“If you put nine guys around him, he still finds a way. He’s such a dangerous player. He opens things up for their shooters.”
That’s true except that on this day, Newton was their shooter. The rest of the Canes made just 1 of 23 three-point attempts, with forward Ivan Cruz Uceda making the only other shot from deep.
Murphy made 4 of 5 shots, all from the paint, for eight points.
Rodriguez was the most glaring of the misfiring Canes, making just one of nine from the floor, 0 for 7 on three-pointers. Davon Reed was 1 of 7 from the floor, and Cruz Uceda was 1 of 6.
Hopkins credited Miami associate head coach Chris Caputo for doing a good job of recruiting Newton even though Syracuse had previously signed a pair of players from Neumann-Goretti.
“Ja’Quan has a lot of pride,” Hopkins said.
However, Canes head coach Jim Larrañaga revealed that Newton pulled a groin injury late in the game, and it remains to be seen whether he will be ready when Miami plays its next game, on Saturday at home against Florida State.