The University of Miami Hurricanes made six early threes, raced to a 32-10 lead, and appeared to be getting an early Christmas gift from the George Washington Colonials on Thursday night.
But the Canes got too comfortable, took their foot off the pedal and paid a steep price.
GW scored 17 unanswered points — 11 of them by 6-9 Japanese guard Yuta Watanabe — to make an exciting game of it at the Watsco Center.
The Canes eventually prevailed 72-64, but they had to work hard for it.
“That’s college basketball for you,” said UM senior Davon Reed, who led Miami with 17 points and scored his 1,000th career point on a rim-hanging dunk. “They’re a talented, high-quality team. We have the youngest team we’ve had since my freshman year, and to be able to adjust that quickly in a matter of seconds was big-time, showed a lot of poise and maturity.”
Ja’Quan Newton scored 14 points, freshman Bruce Brown had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Ebuka Izundu added 12 off the bench.
The Colonials trailed 38-30 at the half and continued to feed off the momentum they built during their 20-6 first-half surge. They scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and tied it 40-40 with 14:56 remaining off a basket by Watanabe, who led GW with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench.
“We woke up” is how GW coach Maurice Joseph explained the Colonials’ comeback. “We’re a resilient group, but it takes a lot, a lot of energy to come back from 22 down. And we ran out of gas down the stretch.”
Watanabe had missed the previous seven games with a calf injury but told Joseph he was ready to go on Thursday. And boy, was he. Watanabe hit a trio of three-pointers during the Colonials’ 17-0 run and also had a pair of critical steals.
“I thought we played sensational the first 13 minutes, but then there was just a slight letup and that was just enough,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Watanabe had missed seven straight games, so he was very fresh, probably very excited about getting back on the floor. We’ve seen that before, where a guy comes back and is just on fire initially.”
Joseph said Watanabe “willed us back.”
UM fans looked stunned to see the score tied after the ease with which the Canes (9-2) started the night.
But Larrañaga and his staff were not as surprised to see the Colonials (8-5) taking the Hurricanes down to the wire. They had warned their players about GW’s size. Their starting lineup included Collin Smith, a 6-10, 240-lb. freshman center from Jacksonville; 6-9 Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh; and 6-8, 245-lb. freshman Arnaldo Toro of Puerto Rico.
“It was like an ACC game,” Larrañaga said. “They’re one of the only teams to out-rebound us in a long time (35-34).”
The Hurricanes are back home on Wednesday against Columbia and open ACC play Dec. 31 against North Carolina State.