A year ago this weekend, the University of Miami men’s basketball team, ranked No. 18 at the time and coming off a 10-day layoff, was humiliated by 28 points at home by Eastern Kentucky. That loss is surely one reason they were left out of the NCAA Tournament.
The Hurricanes learned their lesson. Coming off another 10-day layoff and now ranked No. 15, Miami exploded in the second half with a 22-4 run and beat the College of Charleston 85-63 at the BankUnited Center.
Sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton came off the bench and led the way with career highs in points (20 on 6-of-8 shooting), rebounds (seven) and steals (four). Sheldon McClellan added 14. Freshman Anthony Lawrence was 3-of-3 from three-point range and finished with 11 points, and Tonye Jekiri had 10 points and eight rebounds.
It was the 100th win for Coach Jim Larrañaga at Miami in just 150 games. No previous Hurricanes coach got to that milestone faster.
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The Cougars opened the second half with an 8-2 run and closed to within three points with 17 minutes to go. That’s when Miami picked up its defensive intensity. Newton, Lawrence and Kamari Murphy were particularly active, and their aggression led to UM’s offensive outburst. Murphy had three blocks during one stretch, Newton repeatedly drew fouls to get to the line, and Lawrence got two steals.
“That was a terrific defensive effort,’’ said Larrañaga. “Kamari Murphy was everywhere, and Ja’Quan, Anthony Lawrence. Those plays led to fastbreak layups and baskets. Our defense was so good for such a long period of time. I put Ja’Quan back in the game (when Charleston closed to three), because he was playing so well and he even turned it up a notch.’’
Larrañaga said unlike last year, practices last week were intense – suggesting there were near-scuffles. “On Monday, we had a lot of action, some not so good. I was kind of happy about it. It put us in the right mental frame of mind.’’
Watching the game from Section 103 was former UM great Rick Barry, whose youngest son, Canyon, is a 6-6 junior guard for the Cougars. Barry’s retired No. 24 Hurricane jersey hangs from the rafters at the BUC, and his son wears the same number for the Cougars.
The younger Barry, who is Charleston’s leading scorer, shoots free throws underhanded, like his Dad. He finished with a team-high 20 points for the Cougars.
“It was a great atmosphere and cool to play at the school where my Dad played before,’’ Barry said. “He had a great career here. But at end of the day we would like to leave here with a win. We played them close most of the game, but there was a stretch there where they opened up the game. We played tough for 28 minutes.’’
In addition to Barry, Larranaga told his players to watch out for the Cougars’ freshman power forward Jarrell Brantley, who is 6-7 and 245 lbs. Larranaga said of Brantley: “He is an ACC-caliber power forward. I’m not sure how the ACC let him get away. He’s very, very good around the basket.’’
Brantley gave trouble to all the UM post players, including 7-foot UM center Jekiri. Brantley was the game’s leading rebounder with 11 and also scored 13 points.
The Hurricanes’ next game is at LaSalle Dec. 22, and they return home Dec. 29 against Princeton.