Miami men’s basketball returned to the same court it suffered a heartbreaking loss against Florida State in front of its first sold-out arena in four years.
But instead of bouncing back with a reviving home victory, Miami dropped its second consecutive home contest, 68-64, to a Notre Dame team that answered with enough timely baskets throughout the second half inside a raucous Watsco Center Wednesday.
“Our strategy to begin the game was to try to keep Notre Dame from getting 3’s,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “They’re a terrific 3-point shooting team and we felt like that was the key, but they were able to take advantage of us inside … We were never able to turn them over and get them to make enough mistakes.”
Larrañaga added UM’s energy “was a little bit down” against a Fighting Irish team it has now lost to four times in a row. Notre Dame graduate forward Paul Atkinson, a former Ivy League Player of the Year at Yale last season and West Palm Beach native, exploded for a season-high 23 points and corralled a game-high 11 rebounds. Notre Dame also outrebounded Miami, 38-33, which has lost the rebounding fight in 10 of its 11 conference games.
“Part of our strategy against them was to take away the [3-pointer]. When you do that, you’re stretching the defense out, and leaving a big guy like Paul Atkinson in the low post with single coverage, and with a lot of room to maneuver,” Larrañaga said. “And even when we fronted [him] over the top, the help was a little bit late, and he was able to get some easy baskets.”
As Miami (16-6, 8-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) grappled to find consistent offense in the opening five minutes, Notre Dame (15-7, 8-3 ACC) used an early 10-0 run and made 10 of its first 17 shots towards an early six-point advantage. Atkinson blazed for 15 first-half points and continued to pose as a threat in the paint as the evening wore on, while both teams combined for an abysmal 3-for-22 3-point mark in the first half.
After trailing by two points at halftime, the Hurricanes fell behind by as many as 14 points in the second. Ten minutes remained, and time was running out on another UM rally.
Sophomore forward Anthony Walker and sixth-year redshirt senior Charlie Moore, however, provided a late spark to keep the Canes within striking distance. Walker finished with 12 points, two short of his season-best.
“We put trust in all our players coming off the bench and starting the game,” Walker said. “We expect me, personally, and everyone else to come off the bench with a lot of energy and help the team as much as possible. So, today, my shots were falling, and my teammates kept finding me, and I thank them for that.”
Larrañaga, whose team lacked double-digit scoring from veterans Sam Waardenburg and Kameron McGusty, said that he’d hoped every other Hurricane besides Walker would have played with similar energy levels to Walker’s.
With sights of a third straight road win, Miami is back on the road Saturday night against Virginia. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.