University of Miami

UM men hold off Bethune-Cookman 78-70 with trio of threes in closing minutes

Canes head coach Jim Larrañaga: “Lykes is very competitive”

Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga talks to the media after their 78-70 win over Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in an NCAA college basketball game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Saturday, November 17, 2018.
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Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga talks to the media after their 78-70 win over Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in an NCAA college basketball game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Saturday, November 17, 2018.

There wasn’t much energy in the Watsco Center stands on Saturday afternoon as most University of Miami fans apparently chose to watch the football game or do something else rather than attend the Hurricanes’ men’s basketball game against Bethune-Cookman.

The Hurricane players looked equally disinterested early on. They came out flat, shot poorly from all over the floor, were overworked on the boards, trailed by as many as seven, and were behind by one at halftime. Despite the slow start, they wound up surviving the relentless Wildcats 78-70 with a trio of three-pointers by Anthony Lawrence, Chris Lykes and DJ Vasiljevic in the final minute and a half.

The Canes had no answer for Wildcats junior guard Malik Maitland, who finished with 29 points – more than twice his season average. He was 11-of-16, made five of his seven three-point shots, and had nine rebounds.

“You really have to give a lot of credit to Bethune-Cookman, their players and coaches, for coming in here and playing as well as they did,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “Maitland was absolutely terrific. We had a very difficult time keeping him out of the paint. We just couldn’t guard him. He’s very, very good. He was on fire. Some of his threes were Isaiah Thomas-like.”

Maitland nailed a three with 1:24 to go to shrink Miami’s lead to 72-70, but Lykes answered with a three on the other end to make it 75-70 with 1:11 to go, and then a timely Deng Gak block resulted in a Vasiljevic three-pointer with 33 seconds left to seal the win.

“Full credit to Bethune Cookman, they played with a lot of energy, jumped on us and made things difficult,” said Vasiljevic, who scored 20 points. “But for me and Chris to come down the stretch, get the crowd into it and hit those big shots, that’s what college basketball’s all about.”

Lykes, who led UM with 21 (19 of those in the second half), said: “Our teammates trusted us to make those shots. Those are shots we make in practice...When (Maitland) hit that shot, I was thinking, `Poise down the stretch.’ At that point we were still up and had a good chance to expand the lead again.”

Bethune-Cookman outshot Miami 52 percent to 29 percent in the first half. The Hurricanes were particularly cold from long range, making just two of their 13 three-point attempts (18 percent) in the first half. Lykes, Zach Johnson and Ebuka Izundu were 3-of-17 combined before intermission.

The Wildcats also held an edge in the paint, outrebounding the Hurricanes 40-38. UM could have used 6-11 Dewan Hernandez against the Wildcats’ big men, but the junior forward continues to sit out while the school and NCAA sort out his eligibility status. Team officials had no estimate on his return.

Izundu was coming off a career-best night against Stephen F. Austin, when he recorded 22 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks and three assists. He had a much harder time against the Wildcats, who were the preseason favorites to win the MEAC Conference. They held Izundu to five points and four rebounds. He fouled out with four minutes left in the game.

“We need Buka to be much better,” Larranaga said. “But Deng Gak came to the rescue with that block at the rim, and that allowed us to get the win.”

The Hurricanes (4-0) head to Fullerton, Calif., for the Wooden Classic, where they open against LaSalle on Thanksgiving Day at 2:30 p.m.

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