The game at the Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania, was bigger than basketball on Wednesday night.
The star of the night only finished with five points, but the 6,735 fans filling the arena roared just like they did when he brought the city a state title eight months ago.
“I was kind of like a little kid, like when your parents are telling you you’re going to Disney,” University of Miami standout freshman Lonnie Walker IV said about his homecoming. “Once I got in and got a feel for the game, it eased its way out.”
And the No.11 Hurricanes did the same thing, completing a late 8-0 run to pull past the La Salle Explorers 57-46.
Walker, who was filled with emotion prior to the game, said he was grateful for UM’s efforts to bring him back home just so his friends and family could watch him play.
Before tip-off, he enjoyed some home-cooked fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and participated in his pregame ritual of kissing his grandma and hugging his mom and grandpa.
“I knew what to expect out of my Reading crowd,” said Walker, who was a McDonald’s All-American. “I truly can’t express how much it means to me … It was a little bit more than just basketball. My family comes before anything. And now, I also have a Miami family. It was good to be back.”
And Miami recording its fourth win of the season made the night even sweeter for him.
“The tempo of the game was not what we anticipated or expected,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Maybe we should have prepared a little bit differently than we did. We need the game to be played at a certain tempo to get up and down the floor, to move the basketball and get to the open court.”
The Canes (4-0) shot just 24 percent and were out-rebounded 22-21 in the first half but did just enough in the second half to beat the Explorers (3-3).
The Hurricanes led 41-39 with 4:50 remaining, but back-to-back three-pointers by sophomores Bruce Brown and DJ Vasiljevic put the game out of reach.
Sophomore forward Dewan Huell led Miami with a career-high 16 points on 8-10 shooting and seven rebounds.
“He kept us alive in the second half,” associate head coach Chris Caputo said of Huell. “I’m not sure we have a more driven person on the team.”
Despite getting the victory, UM’s starting backcourt of Brown, Vasiljevic and Ja’Quan Newton combined for just 19 points on 22 percent shooting.
“We wanted to get this game for Lonnie,” Newton said. “We didn’t play good, but the W is all that matters.”
Junior guard Anthony Lawrence pulled down 10 rebounds and chipped in seven points, while redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg scored seven points in his Hurricane debut.
For La Salle (3-3), Pookie Powell scored a game-high 17 points, while B.J. Johnson posted a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds.
While Miami didn’t display a dominating performance, Walker was thankful for the day in his hometown.
“Life has a unique story to it – everyone has their own story behind it,” said Walker, who is Reading High School’s all-time scoring leader. “Just being able to see my mom and grandma one last time before the season really starts to kick in, it was amazing.”
The story for UM continues at home when it hosts the North Florida Ospreys at 4 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Watsco Center.