The first sign that Tuesday was no ordinary season-opening night for the University of Miami men’s basketball team: 18 NBA scouts requested seats.
The second clue: There was a traffic jam outside the Watsco Center, the student section was full, and nearly one-quarter of the crowd of 7,000-plus was occupied by opposing fans.
Fifth-ranked Louisville was in town for the toughest home-opener in Miami program history, and the Hurricanes found out in a hurry that they are not yet ready to compete with the elite teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Cardinals dominated both ends of the court, made Miami pay for every mistake, and cruised to an 87-74 victory that was more lopsided than the score.
The loudest, happiest fans in the arena were the red-clad Louisville fans, including actor Bill Murray, whose son, Luke, is a Cardinals assistant coach. Some of those fans plan to stick around for Louisville’s volleyball game against UM on Friday, and the football game on Saturday.
Louisville forward Jordan Nwora, a Preseason All-American and Preseason ACC Player of the Year, led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He also had 12 rebounds, 10 on the defensive end, two assists, two steals, and three blocks. Nwora was one of five Cardinals in double figures, along with Dwayne Sutton (16), Ryan McMahon (16), Samuell Williamson (13), and Steven Enoch (11 points, 12 rebounds).
Other than a two-minute stretch during which three UM freshmen came off the bench to give the Canes a spark and a 16-9 lead, the game belonged to the Cardinals. Louisville answered Miami’s early lead with a trio of McMahon three-pointers and a 17-0 run. By halftime, the Hurricanes were trailing 45-26 and frustrated.
“Our whole team struggled on the offensive end, we turned the ball over,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “First game, great opponent, we were forcing things. That happens. You really want to play well. We lost a little bit of our patience and tried to do things we couldn’t do.”
The Cardinals outshot Miami 53% to 35% in the first half, scored at will in the paint, and showed why they are considered among the nation’s top teams. Miami, meanwhile, turned the ball over nine times before intermission and had only four assists.
Louisville opened up a 72-40 lead midway through the second half before the Canes went on a late run to make the final score respectable.
“Louisville played very good start to finish, they’re a Top 5 team, and played like that,” Larranaga said. “Our guys played the first 10 minutes like we wanted to, but we turned the ball over and gave them easy opportunities. We played much better late in the game.”
UM point guard Chris Lykes, one of the team’s bright lights in an otherwise forgettable 2018-19 season, struggled much of the night before finding his shot in the final five minutes. His left leg wrapped to protect a knee contusion, Lykes was outmanned and forced into ill-advised shots in the first half. He missed seven of his first nine shots before making six in a row late to finish with a team-high 18 points and five assists.
“Nerves, big game,” Lykes said of his sloppy start. “We got down on ourselves, but I’m proud that we fought back in the end.”
DJ Vasiljevic, who had 16 points, said: “We could have lost by 30-plus, but we didn’t give up and only lost by 13.”
Oklahoma transfer Kam McGusty added 12. The freshmen played with a lot of energy, but had mixed results. Harlond Beverly had nine points, Isaiah Wong went 1-for-6 for two points, and Anthony Walker had nine points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
Larranaga said he expects all three freshmen will improve as the season progresses, and he has high hopes for them.
“I was pleased for 32 minutes,” said Louisville coach Chris Mack. “The last eight minutes, give Miami credit, they hit some shots, but we weren’t the same team in the last eight minutes...We didn’t play with the same gusto the last eight minutes.”
Normally, at this time of year, the Hurricanes are easing their way into the season with non-conference games against mid-majors and hyphenated teams. This year, they were thrown into the fire on opening night as the new ACC Network wanted league games on opening night.
Asked how he felt about opening with such a strong conference opponent, Larranaga said: “That wouldn’t be my choice. I’d like to play someone we beat by 20. Hey, this is a top five team. Question is can we improve enough that we are with them at the end?”
The Hurricanes are back home Friday night against Florida Atlantic University.