Redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty and freshman forward Matt Cross led the Miami Hurricanes to a comeback win, 58-54, without senior guard Chris Lykes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge over the Purdue Boilermakers at the Watsco Center on Tuesday evening.
The team’s two starters, who combined for 29 of a total 58 points, helped spark Miami on a 16-4 run in the final five minutes of the second half. Purdue, on the other hand, only made two foul shots and a layup, after leading 15-1 from the opening tip.
Being the worst 3-point shooting team in the ACC last year (28 percent) was on full display in the early goings. The Hurricanes struggled to score on the perimeter in the opening frame, not making a single 3-point field goal until the five-minute mark of the second half. They instead focused on locking down the Boilermakers on the defensive end to reduce the deficit.
“That was a tale of two halves,” said Miami coach Jim Larrañaga on his team’s 18-point comeback in the second half. “We were pretty darn good defensively in the first half and terrific in the second half, which was a big difference.”
Miami opened the contest without a field goal for ten minutes, until redshirt junior forward Deng Gak scored a layup to cut the Purdue lead to eight. McGusty, Cincinnati transfer center Nysier Brooks, and sophomore guard Harlond Beverly would then only score six more points before the halftime buzzer sounded, as the Canes trailed 32-14.
“We got in the locker room and challenged each other, and the coaches challenged us,” McGusty said. “We came out in the second half and knew the defense. We knew if we continued to play hard on defense, it would translate to the offense as long as we kept sharing the ball and trusting each other.”
After scoring just 14 points, Larrañaga knew they had to begin distributing the ball more, after experiencing a scoring drought of over five-and-a-half minutes to open the night.
“In the first half offensively, we were totally out of sync,” Larrañaga said. “In the second half, we did a much better of sharing the ball, finding the open man, and getting some good looks. We didn’t shoot the ball well from three. I told the team we would probably going to have to make ten threes to win this game, and we just couldn’t make a three or a free throw for a long time.”
McGusty could not have known better that Miami was more than capable of scoring more after a lackluster first 20 minutes.
“I felt like we were too stagnant in the first half,” McGusty said. “We were taking forced shots with two or three people in our faces. The right play is always to drive and kick it to somebody for an open shot. That was our game plan coming into the game, and we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half.”
Purdue freshman guard Brandon Newman started off scoring the team’s first seven points, while 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey scored six points to fuel their 15-1 run. Forward Trevion Williams also tallied eight points in the first half, while junior guard Sasha Stefanovic, the team’s leading scorer, only had four.
“Those big guys from Purdue are a handful,” Larrañaga said. “I thought our guys did a great job staying out of foul trouble and not fouling out. So, we still had a good defensive unit at the end.”
Those two big men for the Boilermakers, along with Newman, would find themselves in foul trouble and eventually disqualified from the game, however. Edey, Newman, and Williams would all foul out in the second half, in that order.
From that point on, McGusty and Cross gained full control while the team continued getting stops defensively.
“Matt didn’t take a shot in the first half,” Larrañaga said. “He didn’t hit a three in the game. Yet down the stretch I really like having him in because I think he knows how to win. He’s really a solid performer, and to think he’s only a freshman we’re very, very pleased with how he’s playing.”
“Kam McGusty, I thought really struggled in the first half offensively. He took some ill-advised shots. I really got on him in a timeout, and then in the second half he was much more of a leader and much more under control in making good decisions.”
Sophomore guard Harlond Beverly and McGusty combined for 12 rebounds, 10 of them on the defensive glass.
Larrañaga also reinforced that having the right leadership was a critical factor in completing the comeback after falling behind by 18 points. Miami was still outrebounded 40-33.
“My coaching staff was on our guys about what proper leadership is,” Larrañaga said. “The messages and how important it is that they’re received properly by your teammates. One of the things that we emphasize is staying very, very positive. We want one guy to encourage his teammates, ‘Hey we’ve got to play better defense. We’ve got to rebound and share the ball better.’ And the other guys to say, ‘Yeah, Chris [Lykes] is right.’ We’ve got to do a better job than what we did in the first half.”
Despite only shooting 17 of 29 from the foul line, the Hurricanes were able to convert on four of their final five foul shots to seal the game and win their first matchup versus Purdue in school history. Coach Larrañaga now lies just seven wins from his 200th win, as he moves to a 61-15 home record since 2015.
Purdue will visit Indiana State on Saturday night, as they move to 3-2 on the season after also losing to Clemson in the Space Coast Challenge by 11 on Nov. 26.
Miami will welcome Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday as well, as they look to maintain their undefeated record heading into ACC competition versus Pittsburgh on Dec. 16.