Head Coach Jim Larrañaga likes the physical scoring abilities of Sheldon McClellan and Ja’Quan Newton, but he also enjoys having them on his team for something less tangible.
“What I like about those two guys in particular is they’re very upbeat. They really enjoy playing with each other,” Larrañaga said of McClellan and Newton, who finished with a combined 32 points.
The No. 15 Hurricanes needed both the points and disposition of their scoring guards to get past Wake Forest 77-63 at the BankUnited Center on Saturday afternoon. Following a tough three-game road trip versus ACC opponents that included losses to Virginia and Clemson, Larrañaga felt the team needed some positivity. Thankfully for Miami’s coach, Bobby McFerrin and Pharrell Williams exist.
“We played the song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ yesterday but our pregame song was ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. And we played it a little bit after the game too,” Larrañaga said.
The crowd could have used Larrañaga’s choice of music as well with 10:19 left to play and the game tied at 48. Instead, the anxious crowd was treated to a smooth jumper by Newton at the 9:36 mark to give the Canes (15-3, 4-2) a lead they would hold on to and increase the rest of the game. Miami outscored Wake Forest 27-15 over the final nine and a half minutes.
“I thought the biggest change was at 48-48,” said Wake Forest (10-9, 1-6) Head Coach Danny Manning. “They stepped on the gas.”
Larrañaga credited his team’s improved defense for the dominant stretch to close out the game. “They didn’t get as many easy baskets they had gotten throughout the game. Our defense tightened up,” he said.
Along with the stifling defense, Miami’s leading scorer for the season upped his aggression in the final 20 minutes. After scoring just four points on 2-of-4 shooting in the first half, McClellan attacked the basket relentlessly in the second period. The redshirt senior guard scored 10 points and went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the second half.
“I don’t know what it is about the first half. I just can’t score in the first half,” McClellan said. “I don’t know if I need to like just not play the whole first half and come in the second half. I guess I’m a second half person.”
He was not the only one to have strong second half. Newton scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the second half.
McClellan was held scoreless until the 3:34 mark of the first half when he slammed down a thunderous dunk for UM’s first field goal in over five minutes of play
McClellan’s dunk got the 6,928 fans at the BankUnited Center out of their seats, but a member on one of Miami’s other teams received the loudest applause of the half. Miami welcomed the new football coaching staff during a timeout, and 2001 national champion and new cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph walked out to an enormous standing ovation.
The Canes led by 11 at one point in the first half, but a 7-0 run by the Demon Deacons to close out the half cut Miami’s lead to 35-33 at the break. Miami started out 5-of-8 on three-pointers, but the team finished the game 7-of-20 from beyond the arc.
The Hurricanes next face Duke at 7 p.m. on Monday at the BankUnited Center.