The Miami Hurricanes played like a team that hadn’t suited up since early March for a good margin of Sunday’s contest.
Four turnovers in the first eight minutes. Sluggish defensive rebounding early on. Poor free-throw shooting. UM spent time getting comfortable against North Florida. The Ospreys ran Miami down the floor in the first half, connecting on 9 of 21 shots from beyond the arc. They ended up inching their deficit to eight entering halftime.
Then came the Hurricanes, who used an energetic 15-10 run in the first eight minutes of the second to edge their lead to 15. Miami kept that same rhythm for the rest of the game, largely after limiting the Ospreys to 3 of 19 shooting from downtown for the remainder of the period.
The end result: a 77-59 victory for Miami, Jim Larranaga’s 191st during his coaching tenure in Coral Gables.
“It’s always nice to win your first game,” Larranaga said postgame. “We have some things that clearly need to be identified – which they have been – and work on and improve. But tonight, at least we come away with a victory.”
Here are five takeaways from Miami’s season-opening win:
1. Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong plays like the star he’s bound to become.
Isaiah Wong is a flat out baller. With 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting, seven rebounds and two steals, the sophomore guard demonstrated the versatility and fundamental understanding of what a reliable player plays like.
“I feel like from last year and this year, I know more of college basketball and more of watching videos, watching the opponent, what they’re gonna to,” Wong said. “Today, we came in and we knew they were gonna zone, so the open spot was gonna be the middle. Coach knew if he put me in the middle it was gonna be a high percentage of making them in the basket.”
Wong opened the game strong, quickly becoming the Hurricanes’ lead scorer, something he held on to for the rest of the game. He had just one turnover, too, on a team-high 35 minutes. The 6-foot-3 prospect garnered an efficiency rating of 26, far above any of his teammates.
Overall, Wong handled business against the Ospreys. It seems as if his freshman year spurt was just a preview as to what he’s capable of this time around.
2. Redshirt Senior Nysier Brooks could be exactly what the Hurricanes have needed.
Larranaga and the Hurricanes have been very amped up about what the Cincinnati transfer has to offer. After sitting a redshirt year last season, Sunday’s showdown was Brooks’ first opportunity to suit up in green and orange.
The fifth-year big finished the game with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks. Even if the stat sheet doesn’t show it, Brooks was a serious advantage for Miami defensively, serving as a border around the rim against the Ospreys.
“He’s gonna be needed to guard the rim for us,” Larranaga said. “To give us a rim protector and finish around the basket. He’s very athletic, he’s a big fella, he needs to do a better job finishing around the rim.”
His presence was obviously desired, playing a total of 26 minutes, a result that cut redshirt senior Rodney Miller Jr.’s time short Sunday. There were times in which Brooks did seem slow to move from paint-to-paint, but that could be largely due to early-season fatigue or a need to process the court after sitting out an entire season.
Those issues did open the door for sophomore forward Anthony Walker, who completed the game with eight points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
3. Chris Lykes struggles, but Harlond Beverly and Kameron McGusty were there to deliver.
There was nobody who endured the opening-day struggles more than Chris Lykes, who finished the game with 11 points, five assists and four rebounds. The senior guard never found the groove that made him UM’s leading scorer last season (15.4 PPG), ending the night on 3 of 13 shooting.
Regardless, it shouldn’t be a concern for Larranaga and his staff. Lykes has served as Miami’s perennial leader in years past, and that’s not changing anytime soon.
“He didn’t get good looks against the zone and he missed some early shots, shots he usually makes,” Larranaga said. “I’m not worried about it, he’s been playing great in practice.”
Stepping up on his behalf was sophomore Harlond Beverly and redshirt senior Kameron McGusty.
Beverly finished with his first career double-double, notching 11 points and 11 rebounds. He did struggle sometimes taking the ball down on fast breaks, resulting in five turnovers. Still, his game was needed, and it was noticed by UM’s staff.
“I was very pleased with Harlond Beverly’s defensive rebounding,” Larranaga said. “He really helped us out on that category.”
Harlond serious woe was his 2 of 9 shooting from the charity stripe. For obvious reasons, that can’t be a consistent trait to his game.
As for McGusty, he was big on the scoring end early on, playing primarily in the middle to attack the Ospreys tightly-packed zone defense. He finished with 10 points on 3 of 8 shooting, adding seven rebounds and four assists. Like Beverly, his five turnovers – some of which were unnecessary – have to be avoided.
4. Defensive consistency is a process that Larranaga is not pleased with.
Now entering his 10th season as head coach of the Hurricanes, Larranaga has been very vocal in regards to his ’10 commitments’, which are the things that his team value most.
One of those things is ‘buddy running’, which Larranaga says is when a defender runs with who he’s supposed to guard instead of being tentative of what’s going on in the court.
That has been a constant recipe for disaster for Miami, which has ranked amongst the worst defensive teams in the ACC for the past two seasons.
The first half was a representation of exactly that early on.
The Ospreys were able to play their style from the jump: consistent three-point shooting, grabbing offensive rebounds, limiting fastbreak points. Although Miami was able to control it later in the game, there’s no excuse for the issue that has UM for years on end.
“For some reason, our guys have yet to understand that’s how you get good on defense,” he said. “It starts with all five guys sprinting back, one guy’s guarding the man with the ball but the other four guys are ready to help him. We’re not doing that.
I keep telling them in practice, ‘if you don’t do it in practice you’re not gonna do it in the game, we’re gonna lose.’ There’s teams like North Florida who out ran us. They were running down the floor and getting threes in the first half. They made nine. We don’t want to give up nine in a whole game.”
5. With Earl Timberlake out for 3-5 weeks, it’s on freshman Matt Cross to make his case.
It was announced pregame that freshman forward Earl Timberlake, Miami’s highest-ranked recruit in their 2020 class, will be sidelined due to a right ankle injury he suffered in practice.
According to Larranaga, Timberlake hurt his ankle in practice for the first time, forcing him to sit for one week. He hurt it a second time almost immediately, stepping on someone’s foot. He’s now in a boot.
“Sometime during the Christmas holidays, whether it’s the 18th or the 25th or the 30th, sometime during that holiday season Earl will be back.”
Due to such, fellow freshman Matt Cross got the starting nod in the season-opener, playing impressively in 26 minutes of play.
Cross finished the evening with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including a pair of three-pointers. He brought in seven rebounds and three assists as well.
“He’s someone that is really valuable to us because we’re missing Sam Waardenburg. Matt has stepped into that starting job, and he’s able to make threes, he’s a stretch-four, he can handle the ball a little bit, but very conservatively, which is good. No turnovers and he can make shots. Whether it’s a layup or a three or a free throw, he can shoot.”
Likely the starter until Timberlake returns, the Brewster Academy alumnus could solidify himself as a vital piece through the likes of his shooting, rebounding and overall feel for the game.