Having defeated Boston College by 17 points the week prior, the Miami Hurricanes women’s basketball team remained determined to start its first winning streak in conference play on Senior Night at the Watsco Center.
Four senior guards, Mykea Gray, Kelsey Marshall, Taylor Mason, and Endia Banks, were honored for their tireless efforts both on and off the hardwood at the University of Miami through four seasons.
Redshirt junior forward Destiny Harden scored 15 points, Marshall and junior forward Naomi Mbandu combined for 24, and Miami (10-10, 7-10 ACC) topped Wake Forest (11-10, 8-9 ACC) 69-67 on Thursday night.
“Four very special young ladies. They’re just gritty and that’s what they’ve been the whole time they’ve been here,” Miami head coach Katie Meier said on the leadership of her senior guards. “When the game got gritty like that, I felt really comfortable and confident in them because that’s what they do. It’s ends up that they really actually shared the ball in crucial moments and had some beautiful ‘one more’ assists.”
The Hurricanes answered a 7-0 Demon Deacons run in the fourth period with a 6-0 run fueled by Mbandu. Miami built a late lead of five points to keep Wake Forest’s chances out of reach.
Wake Forest outrebounded UM, however.
“I’m thrilled, that’s a huge win,” Meier said. “Wake Forest is an NCAA [Tournament] team, they’re very, very good. They’ve got great veteran leadership as well. We knew it’d be a very close game, we did every special situation in the book in shoot-around and then in practice planning, because every time we play Wake it’s very close and they’re really smart.”
An 11-5 advantage belonged to Miami approximately four minutes into the game, as Harden and Marshall sparked a 9-0 scoring burst.
“When you have four young ladies that all play the basic same position, probably one of them is not starting and it rotates through,” Meier said. “But all four of them stayed, and it’s just a statement in college athletics these days that’s very, very rare. They all were very impactful, they all were very important, but like I said to their families afterwards ‘This is you, too. Your commitment, you let them grow roots here and you got some tough phone calls throughout the four years’. I wanted to make sure that I gave credit because for every successful person, there’s a family that really truly loves them and keeps telling them they’re special.”
Sophomore center Sydnee Roby, who only totaled two points in each of the previous two contests, added four in the opening 10 minutes. Freshman forward Nyayongah Gony, who only competed for three minutes against Boston College, also impressed and notched six points on two made 3-point shots towards the end of the first half.
“Roby was huge in the first half,” Meier said. “Gony, I walked over to her and said, ‘You might be the MVP in your four minutes, and she looked at me like I was crazy.’ I thought Roby and Gony had just huge, timely buckets and the team had faith in them, and they really came through.”
Leading the Demon Deacons 32-28 at the intermission, Miami still had work to do in the second half and shot 54 percent from the floor.
“At halftime, it was more about like, ‘Wake wants to play this way, they want to get a call from their coach, execute it, they know all of our plays’,” Meier said. “It was like chess and that’s not Miami. We can do that, and we did, but when we stretched our lead both in the first half and the second half was when we played with pace.”
Wake Forest forward Ivana Raca, a preseason All-ACC honoree, continued to produce offensively in the second half, having scored 10 points, while freshman guard Jewel Spear scored 12 of her 14 after halftime. Their scoring threat was not enough, however, as Miami hit 4-of-6 foul shots down the stretch.
“We plan on just keeping it up,” Banks said. “We talked a lot in the locker room about how were going streaking and we’re going to continue to push through all of the adversity that we’ve come to, and just keep getting wins.”
Traveling to Clemson, South Carolina on Sunday, the Canes will face the Clemson Tigers for the second time this year, having won by nine points at home on Jan. 3. The ACC Tournament awaits Miami on March 3.
The Canes and Tigers will tip off at 2 p.m. from Littlejohn Coliseum.