Miami head coach Katie Meier and her women’s basketball program rang in the new year with an 80-71 win over the Clemson Tigers on Sunday at the Watsco Center, after falling to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at home, 71-60, to end 2020.
Senior guards Kelsey Marshall and Endia Banks combined for 39 points in the team’s first conference win since Dec. 14 against North Carolina. Center Sydnee Roby also finished with 10 points, a new career-high, on 4-of-5 shooting while corralling five rebounds.
After allowing 17 points to both Notre Dame guards Dara Mabrey and Destinee Walker on Thursday afternoon, as well as a 17-point performance from former McDonald’s All-American Maddy Westbeld, Miami (5-3, 2-3 ACC) was able to hunker down defensively and outrebound the Lady Tigers 45-32.
To the surprise of some, Miami held Clemson to just 1-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc, after the Irish shot 8-of-17 from there on Thursday. Tigers guard Kendall Spray, averaging 13 points per game before Sunday, converted on just 1 of her 7 field goals.
“I was already proud of them before the game because of the response after [losing to] Notre Dame,” said Meier on the Hurricanes’ tireless efforts to make the necessary adjustments on the court, as well as in the weight room and film room. “They stepped into it and they showed up and worked really hard. The first five minutes of the game, we had no legs, we had no energy because we had been in the gym since the buzzer sounded.”
The Canes led by six at the end of the first quarter, with Banks scoring seven of the team’s first 20 points in another start for the Duluth, Ga., native. Forward Amari Robinson and guard Gabby Elliott, who scored 17 points, each scored four points for Clemson in the opening frame.
“I felt like we had a really good game plan coming in [to this game],” Banks said. “Shout out to coach [Octavia] Blue, she gave us a great game plan and we had to play with all our might. We came out there and we just communicated where the shooters were.
“I just want to go out there and I want to give it all for my teammates, so they can have somebody to lead them to wins like today,” Banks said.
Miami then turned to redshirt junior forward Naomi Mbandu and sophomore center Sydnee Roby in the second quarter for a combined 11 points, which helped fuel a 13-0 team run to close the first half. UM outrebounded Clemson 25-11 before the intermission.
Trailing 41-27 at halftime, Clemson (8-2, 3-2 ACC) answered with a 6-0 burst of their own in the third quarter. Tigers guard Delicia Washington exploded for eight of her team’s 17 points in those ten minutes, yet Clemson still found themselves behind 58-44.
“Towards the end, she started to be more aggressive,” Banks said. “I had to change how I was playing defense on her. I just kind of regathered myself and came out and tried to keep the composure in our defense so she wouldn’t score.”
Washington and Elliott would score 14 more Tiger points in the final frame, though Marshall and Banks would match such combination to guide Miami in defeating the Tigers, after being eliminated by the same team in the ACC Tournament last March.
“We’re going to continue to put scores up on the board,” Banks said. “It might not be 20 pieces every night, but we’re just out here to help our teammates get better. It’s all about having fun and being one team, and just going out there and dominating the other team.”
Miami only had two full days to prepare for the Tigers, who waxed the Irish 78-55 on Dec. 20, but Meier and her team were solely focused on building the right momentum and getting back into the ACC win column.
“We left a lot out there on Thursday,” said Meier after Miami scored 18 points in the fourth period against the Fighting Irish, despite coming up short. “We came out and really worked today, and everyone showed up. … Basketball didn’t fall out of love with you, you gotta fall back in love with basketball. And basketball won’t turn its back on you if you love it right.”
Miami travels to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Thursday to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3, 1-2 ACC). The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network at 6 p.m.