Talk about bouncing back.
The Hurricane men’s basketball team rebounded from a tough conference loss on Sunday to blowout the St. John’s Red Storm, 79-56, on Wednesday at Miami Arena. After falling to Boston College, the Hurricanes kept themselves in contention for the conference title, remaining just a half game behind first-place Connecticut.
“I’m extremely proud of my basketball team especially after the way we performed Sunday,” UM coach Perry Clark said. “Early I thought we had so much adrenaline, but I just thought we calmed down. It showed the maturity of this basketball team and the ability to respond, not just in this game but to what happened to us Sunday and put us back in pretty good condition for the league.”
The Hurricanes (21-4, 8-4 in the Big East) also ended a four-game losing streak against the Red Storm (16-8, 6-6), dominating early and often. Seven minutes into the game, the Hurricanes trailed 7-6 – the last time Miami would be behind. The Hurricanes outscored the Red Storm 29-8 to close the half, giving UM a seemingly insurmountable 36-14 lead going into the locker room.
The 14 points for St. John’s was by far the lowest halftime total for a UM opponent. The Red Storm connected on just four shots (4-of-27) the entire half, equating to a 15 percent clip.
The game was looking nothing like the one played last month in Jamaica, NY. In that game, the Hurricanes led by one at halftime, only to lose 71-60.
“I was very nervous at halftime,” Clark said. “You know they’re going to come back, you just don’t want to let it get away from you.”
One of the main discrepancies was the play of St. John’s guard Marcus Hatten who scored 25 points in New York.
Hatten entered the game averaging 19.6 points per game, but converted on just 1-of-6 from the field and five points in the first half. Hatten also entered the game as the Big East’s leading scorer against conference opponents (22.4 ppg), but finished with just eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. Clark’s top defender made sure to eliminate a chance of a repeat performance.
“I thought the job John Salmons did on Marcus Hatten was really outstanding because he truly is an outstanding player,” Clark said.
Said Salmons: “I think it was more a team thing. When he penetrated, we were conscious of not letting him get into the middle of our defense. He did that when we went up there. As a team we really focused on stopping him because he’s a great player and really makes his team go.”
With Hatten kept in check, the Red Storm looked for other answers, but were coming up empty. In the second half, however, they began to come back, outscoring the ‘Canes 19-10 in the first seven minutes to cut UM’s lead to 46-33. Center Donald Emanuel scored all 10 of his points in the final half. But Miami continued its resilience, and five minutes later the ‘Canes had extended their lead to 59-39.
“I just thought we played with a lot of energy,” Clark said. “I didn’t think we played with that energy in Boston and we talked about it and this group really responded. They made a run and I thought defensively we really stepped it up and I thought that was a key part of the game when we stretched it back.”
Senior Elton Tyler was especially key in the second half, dominating on both the offensive and defensive ends. Tyler recorded five blocked shots and five rebounds to go along with a season-high 21 points. Before the game, Clark was confident that senior would perform.
“I looked at the tape of the Miami win over St. John’s for the Big East Championship,” Clark said. “One of the things I picked out from that was how well Elton and John played. I asked them to duplicate that tonight and they stepped up big and did that tonight.
“We got (Tyler) the ball. It brought back memories of two years ago because he certainly played like the Elton Tyler everybody told me he was.”
The Hurricanes will try and take the momentum into Sunday’s game at Rutgers. More importantly, with four regular season games remaining, Miami will try to keep pace with UConn.
“Our goal is to win the Big East championship,” Salmons said. “We can’t let any more games slip away like we did on Sunday. We know that if we come out and play our Hurricane basketball, we can beat any team we play.”