Tonight could be the first test of the young season for the 11th ranked ‘Canes, who head outside of the Watsco Center for the first time this year to face the La Salle Explorers. The contest is set to tip at 6pm Eastern Time, and Miami will look to continue their hot start and march on to 4-0.
While this is Miami’s first game away from home, it is not a traditional road game, as the matchup will take place at the Santander Arena in Reading, Pa. The Hurricanes are traveling over 1000 miles from Coral Gables, so at first glance it would seem the Explorers, who play in Philadelphia, would have the upper-hand at least in terms of crowd support.
Insert Lonnie Walker IV. It’s homecoming for the 5-star recruit as he heads back to the town where he played his high school ball, and he should find a large number of fans in the stands. After a scare at the end of the first half last week against Florida A&M, it was uncertain if Walker would even be able to play tonight. Walker went down with what looked to be a nasty injury, as he pounded the hardwood and had to be helped off the court. Luckily for the ‘Canes, and fans in Reading, Pa, the injury proved to be nothing more than a nasty ankle roll, and Walker will have no trouble suiting up tonight. The Freshman comes into the game averaging 7.7 PPG, which he will look to add to in front of his home crowd.
While Walker will certainly be the story early on, it will be the ‘Canes balanced scoring attack that takes center stage once the game gets going. Last week the ‘Canes put up 90 points on FAMU, and yet their leading scorers, Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown Jr., and Dejan Vasiljevic, each put up only 15. As a team Miami is shooting 54.4% and averaging 85.3 PPG. It’s been a total team effort thus far and the ‘Canes, will need their best performance yet in order to keep their dominate start alive.
La Salle heads into the neutral site game with a much different strategy. Their game is more of a “feed the beast” style, as they will rely heavily on Senior Guard BJ Johnson to light up the scoreboard and do work on the glass. Through 5 games this season, Johnson is averaging nearly a double-double with 22.8 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Johnson has already recorded 3 double-doubles this season, including a 30 point, 11 rebound performance against South Alabama.
And with Johnson at the helm, La Salle is no slouch. They started the season 3-0 before dropping a tight one to #20 Northwestern Wildcats. After a letdown against Boston College in which they were blown out 82-61, they’re going to have something to prove tonight as they try to spoil Walker’s homecoming party.
If Johnson is able to keep the Explorers in the game, the question is going to be how the ‘Canes will focus at the stripe when the game is tight. The ‘Canes are shooting a dreadful 50.8% from the line, and while it hasn’t hurt them yet, it would be nice to see it corrected before this really has a chance to bite them.
The stadium should be rocking from the get go, and never will Miami play an away game that feels more like a home game than this. With the excitement of his return home, Walker will have to work out some early game jitters, but the ‘Canes should find balance before long. Riding hot shooting and more focussed, tightened up defense, the ‘Canes should find themselves victorious, and Walker will be able to celebrate in his hometown just like he did last year when he led Reading to their first ever Pennsylvania State Championship.