One month ago, it was 8-0, ranked No.15 after knocking off Florida and Illinois, and feeling pretty darn good about itself.
But then, the University of Miami men’s basketball team “relaxed” and “let up,” in the words of coach Jim Larrañaga.
The players got lazy on defense and lost three of their next four games — including an embarrassing 28-point home loss to Eastern Kentucky.
The Hurricanes coaching staff laid down the law at practice on Dec.26: If you don’t get back on defense, practice stops and everyone runs sprints.
So, they ran. And ran. And ran. Until the message sunk in.
That message was still ringing in the Canes’ ears Tuesday night. They held College of Charleston to 12 first-half points and cruised to a 67-40 victory.
The 40 points scored by the Cougars were the fewest allowed by a UM team since Jan. 18, 2006, when Clemson scored 38 against the Hurricanes. Charleston went 6 of 27 in the first half (22.2 percent) and shot 29.6 percent for the game.
The 12 first-half points were the fewest by a UM opponent since they joined the ACC in 2004 and likely far longer than that, though there were no records available.
“Our concentration, beginning with the practice on December 26, was far better than it had been almost the whole month of December,’’ Larrañaga said. “We were able to get their attention very quickly that day.
“We added a few reminders on the importance of playing our defense, and our players took that to heart, came into [Tuesday’s] game after four very good practices, and it showed.”
UM finished the nonconference portion of its season with a 10-3 record, the best in Larrañaga’s four seasons at the school. The Hurricanes open the ACC season at home on Saturday against No.3 Virginia (5:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“This was really important because wanted to go into the ACC feeling good about ourselves,” said UM center Tonye Jekiri, who had eight points and eight rebounds. “No matter the opponent, we want to keep playing like that and playing good defense.”
The Canes sputtered offensively early on Tuesday, going 1 for 10 to start the game. But the Cougars were doing even worse, missing their first nine shots, in part because of Miami’s tenacious defense.
UM finally started making its shots and led 32-12 at halftime. Midway through the second half, the Canes were up by 30.
Angel Rodriguez led UM with 15 points. Sheldon McClellan had 11. DeAndre Burnett had seven points, four rebounds and four assists.
Among the 4,705 fans at the BankUnited Center was UM legend and NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry. But he was not rooting for the Canes. He was cheering for his youngest son, Canyon, a sophomore guard for Charleston. When the elder Barry was introduced and shown on the scoreboard, he received a warm ovation from Hurricanes fans.
Barry’s son played 35 minutes. He was scoreless but had seven rebounds and three assists. David Wishon, the Cougars’ 7-2 center, was the only Cougar in double figures with 10 points.
The Cougars (5-8) were playing their first game since the Christmas Eve death of former teammate Chad Cooke, who died suddenly at age 20 while playing a pickup basketball game with friends. Cooke was a walk-on guard who played the previous two seasons but had left the team this season.
The honorary captain for UM was Kelida Kenol, a Fort Lauderdale 14-year-old battling brain and spine cancer, who was recently featured in the Miami Herald’s Wish Book series. Larrañaga and the team honored her before the game.