Balanced attack leads Miami to 63-58 win in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Sixth-year redshirt senior Sam Waardenburg dribbles the ball during Miami's loss to UCF on Saturday Nov. 13 at the Watsco Center. Waardenburg helped Miami to a win on Wednesday Dec. 1 against Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenege. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Four Miami Hurricanes scored in double-figures on Wednesday night, as Miami recorded its first-ever win in program history over Penn State, downing the Nittany Lions 63-58 at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania.

It was another successful showing from head coach Jim Larrañaga’s Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The win marked Miami’s third straight in the event, and its seventh win in its last eight games with the only loss coming back in 2018 against Rutgers.

“We talk about this all the time, we think the ACC is the best league in the country,” Larrañaga said. “We wanted to represent the ACC as best as we could.”

Miami (5-3) strongly represented the ACC in the first half with its defense. After flustering in the ESPN Events Invitational last week, UM started the contest forcing Penn State into 10 first-half turnovers, including seven giveaways in a six-minute span.

In addition, the Hurricanes held the Nittany Lions to just 18.2% on 3-point field goals in the opening half. A major point of emphasis for the Canes became perimeter defense, after PSU entered Wednesday’s contest shooting over 40% from deep in two of their last three games.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Hurricanes got some major scoring from redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg. The New Zealand native started the contest by draining his first three attempts from beyond the arch. His start tied his career-highs in 3-pointers made in a single game.

“I told the team before the game we needed our [forwards] to step up and make plays tonight,” Larrañaga revealed. “Boy, did Sam Waardenburg take that to heart.”

Waardenburg finished the contest in style, leading the Hurricanes in scoring with 14 points for the first time in his career. His lone second-half three set his single-game record for threes in a game with four, passing his previous performances set back against Coppin State in 2019 and Wake Forest in 2018.

Miami responded to a 5-0 Penn State run in style to open up the second half. Waardenburg, followed by transfers Charlie Moore and Jordan Miller, each sunk triples to put the Canes up by eight, the largest lead in the game. The Hurricanes struggled tremendously in their previous three games from distance, making an average of just over four threes during their Feast Week games in Orlando.

The second half teetered back and forth as the minutes wound. The Nittany Lions sparked forward in the second half, scoring 15 of the next 17 points, including an 8-0 scoring run to take a five-point lead with 12 minutes to go. UM responded with McGusty contributing to nine of Miami’s next 11 points, including seven consecutive points to give the Canes a 51-48 lead.

In the clutch, Miami needed to go to one of its top scorers, and Isaiah Wong stepped up and stole the spotlight. Wong, after scoring just five points in the first half, scored seven of nine Hurricanes points to pull UM into a four-point lead late. Miami held the Nittany Lions to just two points in the final two minutes and held on to win by five.

It was a difficult night for the third-year sophomore, as Larrañaga revealed following the game that Wong played with a sinus infection. Despite starting the contest shooting just 1-for-8 from the floor, coach knew he could go to his star guard when the Canes needed him most.

“I didn’t take him out in the first half because he was one of our lone veteran guards,” Larrañaga said. “In the second half, he and Kam made some really tough shots.”

Both Wong and McGusty, followed by Waardenburg and Moore, combined for 48 points in the win. The Hurricanes’ bench unit also held Penn State’s reserves to zero points across the game.

The win serves as a huge-confidence builder for Miami, following two double-digit losses to Dayton and No. 9 Alabama last week. The Hurricanes will need to keep momentum and confidence going into Saturday for when they host fellow 5-3 opponent Clemson in their ACC opener. The contest gets underway at noon from the Watsco Center.