The first day back from spring break marked the last night of basketball at the University of Miami this season.
Both basketball teams’ seasons came to abrupt ends Monday night on opposite ends of the country, as both were eliminated early in their respective postseason tournaments.
First the Miami men were mauled by Minnesota, 78-60, in a second-round NIT home game, and about half an hour later, the women’s magical season and push for the Final Four was spoiled against Gonzaga, 65-54.
One star was notably absent from each team. Senior Riquna Williams, the women’s second-leading scorer, was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and did not accompany the team on its trip to Spokane, Wash. Junior Durand Scott, the men’s leader in points and assists, served the third of his six-game NCAA mandated suspension.
The men’s team, in a lethargic, lackluster effort, was embarrassed on its home floor.
Minnesota (21-14, 6-12 Big Ten) outworked Miami (20-13, 9-7 ACC) 41-26 on rebounds and shot 58.3 percent to the Hurricanes’ dismal 34.4 percent. The 18-point margin of defeat was the largest of the season for Miami.
Rodney Williams led the Gophers with 21 points, including 16 in the first half.
The Canes looked shaky and flat from the start, missing their first seven shots from the field to fall behind 12-0. Miami’s first basket didn’t come until more than six minutes in.
“I have no clue why we came out like that,” said sophomore Rion Brown, who led the team with 16 points and six rebounds. “We didn’t come out like we wanted to win.”
The Canes responded with an 11-0 run to pull within one and appear temporarily undeterred, but they ultimately surrendered all the ground they made up, and went into halftime down 35-23.
Coach Jim Larranaga, who completed his first season at Miami, said the team’s lack of energy was evident even before tip-off.
“We’ve been on semester break,” he said. “I guess it appeared to me that when we showed up for shootaround, our minds were back on our classes and maybe not mentally planning to play as hard … Unfortunately we immediately started the game like that, very lethargic.”
Malcolm Grant, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson combined to shoot 4-for-18 for a total of 15 points. None played more than 20 minutes, and Kadji, the team’s second leading scorer, clocked in a mere 11.
The Hurricanes connected on just four of their 25 3-point attempts on a night when productive shooting from beyond the arc could have helped keep them in the game.
In his post-game press conference, Larranaga focused on the season as a whole.
“This has been a fun year for me – my first year here at Miami,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed these kids, but we know as a coaching staff, and I hope the players know as a team, that we have a lot of work to do during the spring, summer and fall.”
The team will return three of its top four scorers with juniors Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson all eligible to play in 2012-2013.
The Hurricanes will receive a boost in the interior they desperately needed all year when Julian Gamble, who missed the entire 2011-2012 campaign with a torn ACL, returns in his sixth season of eligibility.
Seniors who played their final games in the orange and green include rotation players Grant and DeQuan Jones, along with walk-on Ryan Quigtar.
It will be interesting to observe the emergence of Brown, Trey McKinney Jones and freshman point guard Shane Larkin, who will presumably expand their roles in the rotation.
Above all, Jim Larranaga just hopes he can keep his players healthy and finally flee from the shadow cast by the dark cloud Frank Haith and the previous coaching staff left over the program. Three players suffered suspensions this past year because of his staff’s involvement in granting them benefits deemed impermissible by the NCAA.
The cloud will still hover above the program, at least for next year’s first three games. Scott will still have to start next season by sitting out three games as he’s not done serving his suspension.
“We’re miles away from where I would like to be,” Larranaga said. “Your level of improvement is not based on the season. It’s based on the offseason.”
For the Miami women, Monday’s loss ended what looked to be the team’s best chance at a deep postseason run in recent memory.
Senior Shenise Johnson scored 20 points and snagged 13 rebounds to close an illustrious career at Miami. But poor team shooting doomed the third-seeded Hurricanes against the sharp Gonzaga defense.
After the second-round upset, Miami Coach Katie Meier remained upbeat.
“We did not play our best basketball game, but we played as hard as we could possibly play,” she said. “Without any question, we fought and fought and fought and fought.”