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UM Final Thoughts: Larranaga’s Offense Has A Chance To Shine

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Here are seven thoughts from the Miami Hurricanes’ (2-0) 82-60 win over Stetson (0-2):

1. UM can get things rolling fast. Up 30-27 with 03:27 left in the first half, Jim Larranaga’s unit began to heat up on both ends of the court. A Chris Lykes jumper initiated the spurt, while a pair of threes from Isaiah Wong and Matt Cross extended their lead. Redshirt senior Kameron McGusty and Wong both added two points to expand their lead to 13 at the half.

Entering the second period, Wong drilled one from beyond the arc. Big-man Nysier Brooks had four consecutive points and Matt Cross converted a jumper. The end result: a 21-0 run to put the game away.

2. Chris Lykes back into his rhythm. After a sluggish 3 of 13 (23.1%) shooting in UM’s season-opener against North Florida, the senior guard got things rolling quick versus Stetson. Lykes had 14 of Miami’s first 24 points and finished the victory with 20 points on 5 of 9 field goal shooting. He added a perfect 7 of 7 free-throw shooting, along with five assists and four rebounds.

“He got us off to a great start,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “He was probably upset with himself for not making those shots in the first game because he had a lot of good looks. He came out very focused offensively, really working hard defensively.”

Lykes did come down with an ankle sprain in his left leg with under 11 minutes to play in the second half. He was forced to exit the game and head to the locker room.

As of now, his status for Tuesday’s game against Purdue is uncertain.

“An ankle injury is always serious to me because a player like Chris always relies on speed and quickness,” Larranaga said. “An ankle injury can really slow you down.”

3. Miami dealt with a cold-slump as a result of testing out the offense. Immediately after their 21-0 run, Miami fell into a cold spell in terms of field goal shooting, going nearly nine minutes without one. A large part of the slump was Stetson’s use of different defensive zones, ranging from a 1-1-3 to 2-3 and 1-3-1.

“They switched, they went man to man sometimes and we were still working on our offense,” Larranaga said. “We didn’t stick with one offense, we kept changing ourselves and sometimes that can mess the players up.”

UM’s 10 points during that stretch came strictly from the charity stripe. Although that stretch was a bit concerning, Larranaga’s squad made it by extending its 19-point lead to 31 in a matter of five minutes and 17 seconds.

4. Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly providing a rebounding presence. Following Friday’s game, the sophomore guards each have one game with rebounds in the double-digits. Against North Florida, it was Beverly, who finished with 11 boards alongside his 11 points. As for Wong, he tipped in 12 rebounds to his 17 point outing.

Wong’s usefulness inside the paint helped Miami out-rebound Stetson 48-28.

“[Isaiah Wong] and Harlond Beverly are both really attacking the glass,” Larranaga said. “Harlond a little bit more at the defensive end and Isaiah a little bit more at the defensive end. Those things are really valuable.”

5. Matt Cross making an immediate impact. With the freshman forward on the court Friday, Miami had a +30 point differential on the Hatters. On paper, Cross attributed for 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting and three rebounds. For those who watched the game, his play was far beyond that.

“He’s the kind of guy that probably isn’t going to get a lot of attention on the scouting report, but he’s so efficient,” Larranaga said on Cross. “I thought he did a great job on the defensive end of the court. He rebounds and he can make a shot. … He’s a very fundamentally sound offensive player.”

Against North Florida, Cross became the first freshman to start a season-opener for UM since Manu Lecomte in 2013. It’s starting to become obvious as to why Larranaga had so much confidence in his young player.

6. Defense makes its adjustments. Coach Larranaga wasn’t pleased with his group’s defensive performance last week against the Ospreys. To sum it up: North Florida out-ran Miami and managed to get comfortable from three-point range early on.

“In game one, we extended out defense and tried to pick up full court. In reviewing the tape after the game, we realized we gave North Florida lots of fast break opportunities because they threw it right up the court and shot,” Larranaga said. “So we worked on just getting back and guarding our own man and our guys took some serious responsibility.

This time around, the improvements were shown.

McGusty and Wong played huge dividends to that, being tasked with defending Rob Perry, a sophomore guard who averaged 15.1 points per game last season. Against Miami, Perry had just one point on 0 of 8 shooting, a key factor as to why the Hurricanes limited the Hatters’ offense.

7. A first look at Deng Gak. Having had his past two seasons cut short with injuries, Gak took the court against Stetson for the first time in over a year. The redshirt junior finished with two points and four rebounds, getting most of his minutes late in the first half and later on in the second.

The 6-foot-11 forward will likely not be promised playing time this early on in the season, so a game like Friday’s certainly means a lot. That being said, expect more time on the court for Gak before the start of Miami’s conference schedule.

Michael Yero covers all of South Florida’s major pro teams, along with high school sports for 305 Sports. He also covers sports for Immaculata-La Salle High School’s student newspaper, the Royal Courier.

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