Miami drops second-straight conference game with only seven active scholarship players

Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong (2) scored 16 points with a team-high 38 minutes of playing time in Miami's 73-59 loss to Notre Dame on Sunday, Jan. 24 at the Watsco Center.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Wong (2) scored 16 points with a team-high 38 minutes of playing time in Miami's 73-59 loss to Notre Dame on Sunday, Jan. 24 at the Watsco Center. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Desperate for a home victory after an underwhelming offensive performance on the road versus Syracuse, the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team welcomed a similarly struggling Notre Dame team to Coral Gables on Sunday night.

The Canes struggled themselves, however, with only seven scholarship players available, as sophomore forward Anthony Walker (bruised heel), Earl Timberlake (shoulder), and Chris Lykes (ankle) were sidelined in the 73-59 loss.

Notre Dame guard Prentiss Hubb scored 19 points, forwards Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski combined for 32, and the Fighting Irish (5-8, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) defeated Miami (6-8, 2-7 ACC) at the Watsco Center.

The Fighting Irish, led by Laszewski’s ACC-best field goal percentage of .641, relied on an 8-2 run in the final four minutes to keep the game out of Miami’s reach. Notre Dame also outrebounded UM 37-28.

Elijah Olaniyi recorded 10 points and four steals in the loss. Olaniyi is one of the seven scholarship players Miami has available due to injuries.
Elijah Olaniyi recorded 10 points and four steals in the loss. Olaniyi is one of the seven scholarship players Miami has available due to injuries. Photo credit: Josh Halper

“We did a very good job of putting some full-court pressure on them, but it was hard to get it set up after that initial burst,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Guys started to get fatigued and we couldn’t sustain the effort through the end. They were able to get a breakaway layup or dunk, but the press was effective for a three or four-minute period.”

Miami opened on a 9-3 run behind Wong’s four early points, while Notre Dame started off shooting just 0-for-6 from the field. Irish guard Nikola Djogo hit a 3-point field goal to get them on the board, however, four minutes into the ballgame. The Canes sunk one of their 11 3-point attempts from downtown in the first 20 minutes.

“We understand our situation, we have a bunch of people hurt right now,” said redshirt junior forward Deng Gak, who finished with six points and a career-high 20 minutes. “Our main focus is just coming out of the game and playing hard, which I think we do a good job of, but we do have some holes in our game like 3-point shooting, which is due to injuries.”

Notre Dame, despite having endured a seven-day layoff for the third time this season, soon developed an offensive rhythm and initiated an 11-2 run by the eight-minute mark. The visitors later mirrored that scoring burst off of five consecutive points from forward Juwan Durham and a Hubb triple to close the half.

“We’re struggling shooting the ball, we’re struggling to defend the three, and we’ve just got to keep getting up shots every day like we have been and keep working on our defense,” said senior guard Kameron McGusty, who paced Miami with 20 points.

Kameron McGusty (23) scored a team-high 20 points against the Fighting Irish.
Kameron McGusty (23) scored a team-high 20 points against the Fighting Irish. Photo credit: Josh Halper

McGusty kicked off the second half with a wide-open three, though Hubb and guard Trey Wertz answered with two straight threes, kindling Notre Dame’s third 11-2 run of the night. The Fighting Irish totaled ten 3-point field goals, while the Canes finished with only three.

“We’ve learned this throughout the season, we just can’t guard 3-point shooters very well,” Larrañaga said. “Notre Dame shoots a lot of threes, they shot 56 percent from three, and [we] wish we could figure out how to get this team to defend the 3-point shot better. And then at the other end of the floor, we shoot 14 percent from three, we don’t make any threes. The combination is lethal.”

The two programs traded baskets until Larrañaga decided to apply full-court pressure, and the Hurricanes eventually clawed back with a 13-3 run of their own to trim the Notre Dame lead to nine.

“It was our full-court pressure,” Larrañaga said. “Deng Gak did a really good job on the ball; we got a couple of stops and [that] led to layups and open shots. I thought that got Isaiah Wong going and he was able to generate some points in the open court. Kam McGusty, I thought played very well offensively, he had 20 points, but we need more guys to score the ball.”

Laszewski remained relentless around the basket in the closing seven minutes, nonetheless, as he posted nine of his team’s final 11 points. Wong would make just one of Miami’s seven shot attempts to close the contest, while Notre Dame finished on an 8-2 burst.

“We’re in a situation that we probably could’ve used a positive COVID test to help us [recover from injuries], so that we could regroup, get our guys healthy, and get them practicing and playing well,” Larrañaga said. “That hasn’t been the situation, we’re now 6-8, and we’ve got a rough road ahead. There’s no looking back, we’ve got to look forward, and try to improve; it’s gonna take a team effort.”

Miami will travel to Tallahassee, Fla., on Wednesday to face a nationally rising Florida State team that defeated No. 20 ranked Clemson program by 19 points on Saturday. Lykes’ return status remains unknown, as he was hoping to have returned for the team’s home win over No. 16 Louisville.

The Canes and the Noles will tip off at 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.