Eager to put a 16-point road loss at North Carolina State behind them, the 17th-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes return to the cozy confines of the BankUnited Center on Wednesday night to play a Notre Dame team that just slipped out of the Top 25.
The Canes’ previous home game nine days ago was a thrilling 80-69 victory over Duke, which knocked the Blue Devils out of the Top 25 for the first time in nearly nine years. The arena was packed to the rafters, the Canes got lots of love on ESPN, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski gushed about the UM team afterward, declaring: “They’re very, very good. They’re better than we are.”
Miami players and coaches were on a high when they boarded their flight to Raleigh, N.C., for the game against the Wolfpack. They came crashing right back down to earth as the Pack outrebounded the Canes 41-23 and Cat Barber dropped 30 points on the Hurricanes.
The beefy N.C. State post players kept UM off the boards much of the night, and, according to Miami players, a few early calls by the referees scared the Canes into playing less aggressively than they normally do.
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“The Duke game, we were playing at home, so exciting, your fans behind you, a rivalry game, we had more energy and confidence,” said UM center Tonye Jekiri, who had five rebounds against the Wolfpack. “Since N.C. State was struggling to win games, maybe we thought we’d win easily. Before the game, Coach L (Jim Larrañaga) told us that their coach yelled at them after their loss to Georgia Tech, and warned us they’d come out with a lot of energy, and play physical. I don’t know how everybody took the message, but it wasn’t clear enough.
“They played harder and tougher than us.”
UM senior guard Angel Rodriguez agreed.
“Winning in the ACC is tough, especially on the road, but at the end of the day, that’s what good teams are supposed to do,’’ Rodriguez said. “We obviously let one slip by. We definitely didn’t match their intensity, that’s for sure. We have a very, very tough opponent coming with Notre Dame and we have to get mentally ready.”
Jekiri and Rodriguez both mentioned the effect the early fouls had on their team.
“A couple of calls early in the game, I think it made us, and I include myself, get away from the way we play defense,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t let that happen again. Sometimes you’re going to get good calls, sometimes as players we think we’re getting bad calls, but it’s just part of the game. Referees are human, and we can’t let anything, the crowd or refs, affect the way we play.’’
Larrañaga challenged forwards Kamari Murphy and Ivan Cruz Uceda to “be who they are more often’’ in order to ease the burden off Jekiri. He wants Murphy to crash the boards, especially on the offensive end, and Cruz Uceda to stretch the defense to the perimeter and make three-pointers.
“Kamari didn’t get a single offensive rebound in 24 minutes of playing time,” Larrañaga said. “We need our big guys to go to the boards against Notre Dame.”
No. 17 UM men vs. Notre Dame
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables.
Records: UM 16-4 (5-3 ACC); Notre Dame 15-6 (6-3).
TV, radio: ESPN2; WQAM (560 AM).
Scouting report: The last time they played, last March, UM lost to then-No. 11 Notre Dame 70-63 in the ACC Tournament. The Irish are coming off an 85-62 win over Wake Forest. Notre Dame players to watch include Zach Auguste, Demetrous Jackson, and A.J. Bursett, who scored a career-high 14 points against Wake Forest in his first start in nearly two years.