Hours after learning the NCAA declared Dewan Hernandez ineligible for the season, the shorthanded University of Miami men’s basketball team shook off the bad news, played its best game of the season, but fell short 87-82 to 18th-ranked North Carolina State in their conference opener.
The Hurricanes led by 10 with nine minutes to go, much to the delight of a louder-than-usual Watsco Center crowd that included newly-named head football coach Manny Diaz, who received a rousing ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard.
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But things began to unravel midway through the second half. Miami was held scoreless over a seven-minute stretch, and couldn’t catch up. N.C. State went on a 13-0 run to take a 77-74 lead with 5:35 to go. Miami closed the gap to one, but Markell Johnson scored eight straight points to seal the win.
“That was a heck of a game,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “My guys played their hearts out. We’re a good free throw shooting team, but this was one of those games where we missed some free throws and took some ill-advised shots late.”
The Canes shot 55 percent from the free throw line.
Miami had pulled ahead of the Wolfpack 45-37 at intermission after a 17-2 run over the final five minutes of the half. N.C. State turned the ball over six times during that stretch, and the Hurricanes took advantage. Three UM players had hit double figures by halftime – Chris Lykes, Anthony Lawrence and Zach Johnson.
Lykes, at 5-7 the smallest man on the court, led UM with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting for the night. Zach Johnson had 21 points with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Anthony Lawrence chipped in 12 and Ebuka Izundu 10. Wyoming transfer Anthony Mack played a season-high 27 minutes and scored five points.
The Hurricanes (8-5) have been reduced to a seven-man rotation and the Wolfpack (13-1) is known for its deep bench. In the end, that proved to be the difference.
“I told my team at halftime, `Rely on your defense, and eventually we’d wear them down with the numbers they’ve got,’ said N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts. “That was a hard-fought game and we’re happy to get out of here with a win. Jim (Larranaga) has done a great job under their circumstances. He’s going to find a way to win games.”
Larranaga was hoping to get Hernandez back for the conference season, but didn’t get the news for which he had hoped.
Hernandez, a junior and the team’s leading big man last season, sat out the first 12 games of the season while the university and the NCAA reviewed his eligibility. His name surfaced in court documents related to the FBI investigation of shoe companies’ influence on college basketball. One of the defendants in the case, an agent runner named Christian Dawkins, mentioned Hernandez’s name in an e-mail in which he detailed plans to pay prospective pro players.
“I disagree with the determination made by the NCAA,” said Hernandez’ attorney, Jason Setchen. “In my opinion, they have implied facts and drawn conclusions without sufficient support in the record to justify such conclusions. It is very unfair to Dewan. I am discouraged by the decision. I genuinely believed they’d treat him fairly and reinstate him. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
“Coach Larranaga and his staff were very supportive throughout the process. I am grateful that they stood by Dewan.”
The coach didn’t want to discuss Hernandez after the game. “We’ve talked so much about him lately, let’s talk about the game. You can talk to me about him tomorrow or the next day. I’d like to just stay focused.”
Earlier in the day, the UM women won their conference opener 68-61 over previously undefeated Virginia Tech. Miami (13-3) rallied from a nine-point third-quarter deficit to hand the Hokies (13-1) their first loss of the season.
Senior forward Emese Hof led the Canes with a game-high 23 points. Beatrice Mompremier, the Miami native and Baylor transfer, had 18 points and 13 rebounds -- her 11th double-double of the season.
“I just thought it was the toughest we have played all year,” said UM coach Katie Meier. “We got a little soft when we were scoring in the 100s and 90s. We needed to reinvent ourselves and become a team that can rely on its defense. (Allowing) 61 points against a team that talented is tremendous.”
The Hurricanes are leaning on their post players this year, and Meier is delighted with their performance.
“Basketball is getting away from the double bigs, but I have them and I love them,” she said. “I think they are awfully smart, so we are going to ride this.”
The UM women play at Wake Forest on Sunday. The men play at Louisville on Sunday.