How lopsided was the start of the University of Miami men’s basketball game against South Alabama on Friday night? Hurricanes fans broke into a polite applause when the visiting Jaguars finally made their first basket after falling behind 23-0 in the first 10 minutes.
The 17th-ranked Hurricanes, home after a five-game trip, took command from the opening tip, never trailed and remained undefeated with an 87-75 win. The Canes improved to 7-0 heading into Tuesday night’s nationally televised game against Illinois.
“When you spot a team 23 points to start a game, you dig yourself a hole right away,” South Alabama coach Matthew Graves said. “Our guys were nervous, a little anxious, playing a ranked team for the first time, and they kind of got overwhelmed by the moment. Once they settled down, I was proud of how we fought back.”
In the second half, the Jaguars outscored the Canes 54-44 and outrebounded them 28-12 (15-2 on the offensive glass), but the game was already out of reach. It was a tough day for visiting teams at the BankUnited Center. A few hours earlier, the UM women’s team went on a 30-0 tear during its 95-44 victory over Southern Illinois.
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“We got off to a terrific start, and I can’t say I expected that,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga. “I was very, very happy when I saw how quickly we were able to gain control of the game. But I was very concerned at halftime. We didn’t seem to have the same focus the second half, especially on the defensive end. They outhustled us, and we can’t afford that.”
All nine UM players scored, and five were in double figures. Sheldon McClellan led with 17 points. He was 6 of 6 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. Manu Lecomte added 14 points and five assists. Freshman Omar Sherman had 13 points (including a pair of dunks that delighted the 4,267 fans) and seven rebounds. Deandre Burnett added 10.
The most dominant UM player during the 23-0 run was 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri, who displayed his athleticism, passing touch, footwork, and defensive skills. He finished the night with a season-high 13 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and a career-high eight assists, six of which came in the first half. He had eight assists total through the first six games.
“I have accepted the coach’s challenge, and my game is coming along,” Jekiri said. “My teammates are pushing me a lot and giving me confidence.”
Said Burnett of Jekiri: “We expect him to dominate. We want to give him that confidence because we know he’s got the ability to do it. He’s worked hard every practice, coaches worked with him hard the past three summers, so it’s his time now. It’s time for him to control the game. He can do it, and we believe in him.”
Time after time, Jekiri stood like a lighthouse in the paint, searching for the open man. And time after time, he found him. Larrañaga said Jekiri’s height gave him a big advantage against South Alabama.
“In a game like this, he was much taller than everybody, so he could see over the defense,” Larrañaga said. “When we threw it to him, he had a choice to shoot or pass and those first passes he made and guys made the threes, I think is what turned the game in our favor so quickly.”