No. 25 Miami men’s basketball looked every bit of a Top-25 team on Saturday afternoon as it defeated a tough St. Francis (PA) squad that never quit, 91-76, at the Watsco Center for its seventh straight win.
After the Hurricanes erased a 16-point deficit to beat Atlantic Coast Conference foe NC State last week, Miami (11-1, 2-0 ACC) entered the AP (Associated Press) rankings for the first time since 2018.
The Hurricanes outscored the Red Flash 54-39 in the second half on 59.4% shooting. St. Francis (3-9) could not keep up with Miami’s quick pace, which led to 23 fastbreak points and 46 points in the paint.
Guard Isaiah Wong, the ‘Canes leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, had another vintage performance. The fourth-year junior netted a team-high 22 points and ten assists while getting Miami off to a quick start with seven of its first 11 points in the game.
However, it was not just Wong who contributed, as six Hurricanes registered double figures.
“This team is well-balanced,” sophomore guard Bensley Joseph said. “We play for each other. We play together.”
Joseph made his first career start in place of guard Nijel Pack, who was out due to illness, and had a career-high 14 points on 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc. He also recorded career highs in rebounds and assists, with seven and six, respectively.
Fellow sophomore Wooga Poplar also had a career-high 20 points by scoring in various ways. One moment he was soaring into the paint for an easy lay-up, and the next he was beating opponents from deep, where he shot 50%.
“I feel like everything was working for me [offensively],” Poplar said. “My teammates were getting me going and gave me that confidence to keep shooting the ball no matter what.”
But the Red Flash made Miami earn its victory, going toe-to-toe with a team that made it to last year’s Elite Eight. Freshman Landon Moore and 6-foot-10 big man Josh Cohen combined for 55 points to keep it close.
Midway through the first half, the Red Flash switched to a zone defense and promptly went on an 8-0 run to take a six-point lead.
But Miami tied it 37-37 at halftime thanks to Wong’s last second steal and dunk on the other end that just beat the buzzer.
The Hurricanes opened the second half on a 7-0 run thanks to more aggressive play, which included applying full court pressure on St. Francis to put them off rhythm. The ‘Canes would not trail again and built their lead up to as many as 19 points with 1:53 remaining.
“I think our energy changed [after halftime],” Joseph said. “We just wanted to come out with a lot of energy in the second half, and I felt like we did that really well. We were executing our plays and then our defensive intensity definitely stepped up.”
Next up, Miami will face its toughest opponent of the season in No. 2 Virginia on Tuesday at the Watsco Center, where the Hurricanes have not lost a game this year. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
“Everybody contributed, and it was a good win,” head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Everybody knows we got a huge game on Tuesday, so this was a good way to prepare for it.”