Even typically-dependable dynamo Chris Lykes struggled mightily to hang onto the basketball Wednesday night. He had five turnovers before halftime. That’s how dire things were for the University of Miami for much of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Rutgers.
Ebuka Izundu’s presence in the post and a second-half spark from Anthony Lawrence and Zach Johnson kept the Hurricanes in the game, but it wasn’t enough and they lost 57-54.
Miami, which was averaging 84 points per game, looked exhausted after returning Monday from California, and was held to its lowest point total of the season. Izundu left the court with leg cramps late in the game and trainers put him in an ice bath.
The Canes dropped to 5-2. Rutgers improved to 5-1 and snapped UM’s 19-game non-conference home game win streak.
“We didn’t have energy as a team, and mentally we were not there, either,” said Lykes, who went 3-of-11 for eight points – well below his season average 19.3 points per game. “We have to regroup. Coach told us at halftime we have to pick up our energy. We were lethargic, turning the ball over a lot. As a point guard, I have to be better than that. That’s on me. My responsibility. I can’t have five turnovers in one half.”
UM coach Jim Larranaga said he was concerned with his team’s sloppy ball-handling during the Wooden Legacy tournament in Fullerton, Calif., last week. The Canes are playing six games over a 10-day stretch (“More than the NBA plays,” said Larranaga), and that is taking a toll on a team that was already undermanned.
“Our energy level was sapped...The flight over (to California) was 3,000 miles, the flight back was 3,000 miles, we played three games over four days out there and we have only seven guys (in the rotation),” Larranaga said. “We could have used Anthony Mack tonight, but he was sick and unable to be at the game. Without Buka (Izundu) down the stretch, we didn’t have an inside game. Our guys could all use a break to rest and recover, but we just don’t have the bodies.”
Izundu is shouldering the load in the paint during the absence of Dewan Hernandez, who has yet to play this season as the NCAA and university examine his eligibility after his name surfaced in a court case related to the FBI investigation of college basketball’s relationship with shoe companies.
Izundu sat much of the previous game in foul trouble, but on Wednesday he was more careful, and his presence on the court was critical. He made big plays on both ends of the court, and had a double-double secured early in the second half. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Lawrence led UM with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Johnson added 12 points.
“It doesn’t matter how tired we are, every game we have to be ready to play,” Lawrence said. “Dewan being out hurts, but we have to deal with situations like that. We have to come ready to play with whoever we got.”
Miami’s next game is Saturday night against Yale at AmericanAirlines Arena, part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. and the game is being televised on ESPN3.