For a talented, but untested, University of Miami men’s basketball team, Friday night’s walloping of Western Carolina was the ideal season opener.
Not only did the Hurricanes cruise to a 92-43 home win against the Catamounts, but they did so while getting their four freshmen — Dewan Huell, Bruce Brown, Dejan “DJ” Vasiljevic and Rodney Miller — plenty of valuable playing time off the bench.
Huell was the first to get in, replacing starting center Ebuka Izundu just 39 seconds into the game when Izundu was issued his second offensive foul. After sitting the rest of the first half, Izundu piled up 14 points in 13 minutes to finish as the game’s leading scorer.
Huell, Ja’Quan Newton and Kamari Murphy tallied 13 points apiece, and Vasiljevic recorded 11, including three three-pointers. Anthony Lawrence and Davon Reed added eight points each to help lead Miami, which opened the second half with a 14-0 spurt and pushed its lead to as many as 57 while shooting 59 percent.
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“It wasn’t a very good game and I apologize for that,” said Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter. “We didn’t give them much of a test tonight, to be honest with you.”
While the Hurricanes finished 50 percent (31-for-62) from the field, their defense was more impressive. They held the Catamounts to 25.4 percent shooting (17 for 67), forced 16 turnovers, blocked eight shots and stacked up nine steals.
“I told the team immediately after the game, I was really pleased with our defense,” Coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Right from the start, we showed a lot of focus, good intensity, good teamwork helping each other defensively.”
“This was a game we’ve been waiting for,” Murphy said. “We dug in. Defensively, we were great today. And we shared the ball.”
The 6-10 Izundu was perfect from the field (5 for 5) and the foul line (4 for 4), and drew a loud cheer from the announced crowd of 7,142 at Watsco Center with a big block early in the second half.
“The block made me go off crazy,” said Izundu, who made his first career start after averaging 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds in 5.3 minutes per game as a freshman last season. “That really set me off.”
Huell had his own monster highlight — a one-handed dunk on a fast-break for his first points as a Cane.
“Wow!” Larrañaga said of the slam by the McDonald’s All-American from Miami Norland. “There was a turnover, he got a bounce pass and he threw it down.”
Huell grabbed seven rebounds as well in 25 minutes. Brown also played 25 minutes and had a game-high five assists and game-high tying eight rebounds.
The Hurricanes looked as impressive as last year’s Sweet 16 team that lost to eventual national champ Villanova, despite losing three starters — Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri — from that squad. For a team needing seasoning, Friday was “huge,” Larrañaga said, because it allowed seven players to log at least 23 minutes.
“We were just very out-manned,” Hunter said. “The speed of the game was very different from what we’ve gone up against. Our execution was not very good and they took advantage of that.”
Miami will next play Wednesday at North Florida.