The Miami Hurricanes continued to prove that in spite of an overall record that may be less than to be desired, they are a dangerous team to face when at full strength.
That’s because UM wasted little time Saturday afternoon racing out to a lead against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, letting some of it slip in the second half but ultimately prevailing 71-54 in a game they never trailed.
“Today we wanted it more,” said forward Rodney Miller. “We’re going to celebrate this now and then we have three road games.”
“We are in a much better place physically, mentally and emotionally,” said head coach Jim Larrañaga. “The emphasis on defense and rebounding has gotten across to our guys...If we can get the defense and rebounding up, we’re a much better team.”
The win is the second straight for the Hurricanes (13-12, 5-10 ACC), both with either full lineups or its nearly full slate of players. Miami is 11-4 when missing two or fewer players that were active on opening night, including 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition, the Deacons’ 54 points Saturday was the lowest that any Canes ACC opponent has scored this season.
For the first time since Jan. 4 against Duke, the Canes had more than eight scholarship players dress. Chris Lykes, Kameron McGusty, Keith Stone and Sam Waardenburg have all missed time at some point this season at some point, with at least one of them having been inactive for each of the past 11 consecutive matchups.
“That [depth] allows the player himself to play really hard. And when you play really hard you can play really well,” said Larrañaga. “When everyone is sharing that responsibility it makes a huge difference.”
“With our rotation, [we can] play better defense,” said Waardenburg. “You can actually get guys resting. When we used to have six [or] seven guys, people were getting tired. That’s when mistakes happen.”
Larrañaga used this flexibility to debut a new starting lineup combination, with two big men in both Stone and Miller alongside Lykes, DJ Vasiljevic and Isaiah Wong.
It was Lykes and Wong that led Miami with 13 points each, with Vasiljevic and McGusty joining the pair in double-figures with 11 each. It was the third straight game that Wong led or equaled the Miami high in points.
Larrañaga credits Wong and his improvement, saying that he had “too many thoughts running through his head” early in the season.
Miller also added eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Neither team shot overly impressively, with the Hurricanes holding an edge in field goal percentage 40-39%. But Miami held more robust advantages in turnovers (14-8) and rebounds (42-37).
Brandon Childress led Wake Forest with a game-high 15 points, while Ismael Massoud added 13.
The Canes took a 37-29 lead into halftime, anchored by a 14-2 run over a four minute stretch. Miami turned the ball over just once in the opening period while forcing seven takeaways. Lykes’ nine points along with Miller’s eight led the way for the Hurricanes over the first 20 minutes.
Wake cut the Canes’ lead down to as little as eight from a high of 17 midway through the second half behind a 9-0 scoring run. But even with Larrañaga “very concerned” at that point, Miami answered with a 24-15 response in the closing eight and a half minutes of the contest to seal the win.
UM will pack their bags for three consecutive road games, starting with Wednesday night’s rematch at Virginia Tech after the Hurricanes beat them 71-61 in Coral Gables on Jan. 28. Additional road games at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech will follow before returning home on Mar. 4 to play Virginia.