College Sports

UM men’s basketball team aiming for another upset at Duke

Miami (Fl) Hurricanes center Ebuka Izundu (15) dunks in the first half as the University of Miami hosts Barry University in a men's basketball at the Watsco Center on Wednesday, November 2, 2016.
Miami (Fl) Hurricanes center Ebuka Izundu (15) dunks in the first half as the University of Miami hosts Barry University in a men's basketball at the Watsco Center on Wednesday, November 2, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Once upon a time, a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke would have seemed an overwhelming challenge for the University of Miami men’s basketball team. That changed the moment Jim Larrañaga became coach.

Since he was hired in 2011, the Hurricanes have beaten the Blue Devils four out of six times, three times by double digits. Two years ago, the Canes went to Durham and shocked the eventual national champions with a 90-74 victory. Last season, Miami won 80-69 with the help of 21 points from Sheldon McClellan and 11 assists by Angel Rodriguez — more than the entire Duke team.

UM hopes to win for a third year in a row as the Canes head into Cameron for a Saturday night ESPN game.

They’re facing an 18th-ranked Duke team that’s coming off back-to-back losses to Florida State and Louisville. The Blue Devils are 14-4 overall and 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the first time since 2007 they’re below .500 in the conference through five games.

“We’re coming off of two straight losses to two very good teams on the road in hostile environments against a very good Florida State team and a very good Louisville team,” said acting coach Jeff Capel, who is filling in for Mike Krzyzewski following his back surgery. “I think we’ve done some things to get better. It hasn’t equated in wins, but it’s part of the process of growing as a team. We have to do a lot more.”

Coach K will not be back in time for Saturday’s game, and Duke might also be missing co-captain Amile Jefferson, whom Capel described as “day-to-day” with a bone bruise in his right foot.

The Blue Devils are led by Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard. Allen has been the subject of national scrutiny — and the target of taunting by opposing fans — after tripping three opponents in the past year and serving a one-game suspension.

UM is 12-5 overall and 2-3 in the ACC. The Hurricanes have been inconsistent, which is to be expected considering three freshmen are playing significant minutes. After holding Pittsburgh to 46 points, they lost 96-79 at Wake Forest on Wednesday night. There are no UM players in the top five of any ACC category, but as a team UM is ranked second in the conference and 12th nationally with 61.5 points allowed.

“My coaching staff has been delivering the message of how important defense is to winning, and our players have been very receptive,” Larrañaga said on Monday. “There’s no question our two seniors [forward Kamari Murphy and guard Davon Reed] have been just absolutely terrific at the defensive end of the floor.”

Reed leads UM in scoring at 15.2 points per game and had 14 against Duke last season. Ja’Quan Newton is averaging 14.7 points and also had a big game against Duke last time with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Larrañaga said there is no way to prepare his freshmen for their first visit to Cameron, but more important than the building are the people inside.

“Cameron Indoor Stadium is a legendary arena, but a lot of it has to do with success,” Larrañaga said. “You’re not playing against the Cameron Crazies. They add to the environment, but what makes Duke so good is they’ve got the winningest coach in college basketball history. They have nine McDonald’s All-Americans and a very enthusiastic crowd that supports that great cast.”

Saturday: UM men at No. 18 Duke

When/where: 8:15 p.m.; Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.

TV/radio: ESPN; WQAM 560.

Records: UM 12-5, 2-3 ACC; Duke 14-4, 2-3.

Scouting report: The Blue Devils are coming off back-to-back losses to Florida State and Louisville. Miami is coming off a 96-79 loss at Wake Forest. … UM beat Duke 80-69 last season, but the Canes were No. 15 in the nation at the time and were very experienced.

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