Miami tipped off its 2016-2017 season with a dominant 92-43 win over Western Carolina on Friday night at the Watsco Center.
In its first game together, the young team fought through expected growing pains to get the job done over the Catamounts. Rust and sloppy play from the inexperience of the newcomers on the roster were evident throughout, but the Canes’ talent, athleticism and effort far outweighed their mistakes on opening night.
The Hurricanes exhibited a balanced offensive attack that showed to be quite effective. Five players scored in double figures, led by sophomore center Ebuka Izundu who scored 14 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Miami shot an impressive 50 percent from the floor as a team on the night.
Izundu, who barely played in the first half due to early foul trouble, said that the key on offense was his ability to stay focused after getting two quick fouls.
“I kept my head in the game and stayed ready for the second half,” he said. “Then, when I got back out there, I just tried to help my team win.”
Miami came out of the gates in an offensive lull, but was able to take an early lead in large part because of its defense. The Canes held the Catamounts scoreless for the first five minutes of the game and only surrendered 18 points in the entire first half.
“Our coaches prepared us well,” Redshirt senior forward Kamari Murphy said. “They helped us key in on the [Western Carolina] players that could really score the ball and also emphasized the importance of not allowing second opportunities.”
Head Coach Jim Larrañaga echoed that sentiment and keyed in on the importance of playing good defense without fouling.
“We came out with great intensity and teamwork on the defensive end,” Larrañaga said. “Most of our fouls were on the offensive end, and you don’t want to foul anytime, but what really hurts you is when you get called for cheap fouls on the defensive end.”
The relentless defensive effort led to multiple transition opportunities that ended with thunderous dunks from Murphy and freshman forward Dewan Huell. Senior guard and captain Davon Reed sparked the Miami offense when he found his stroke from the three-point line toward the end of the first half. He converted two deep threes, as the team stretched its lead to 23 at the half.
The Canes took the offense up another notch in the second half, as the speedy junior guard Ja’Quan Newton converted on multiple fast-break opportunities. As the lead was extended, Miami slowed the pace and worked the ball inside to some of its young forwards.
Huell, the most highly touted recruit in program history, didn’t disappoint in his debut. He attacked the glass on the offensive and defensive ends, finishing the night with seven rebounds. Huell showed his skill set and soft touch around the basket, adding 13 points of his own to the Canes’ balanced attack.