There is a different energy in the University of Miami men’s basketball locker room this season, a positive vibe that was missing the past few years. Coach Jim Larranaga and his Hurricanes are having fun again, and the results are showing on the court.
The good times continues Wednesday night, as the Canes overcame a slow start and rolled to a 76-59 win over Lipscomb at the Watsco Center. It was Miami’s third win in a row and the team improved to 7-3.
After the game Larranaga trotted over to the baseline in front of the pep band and “Category 5” student section and celebrated with them. Last week, following a win over Clemson, Larranaga congratulated the team in the locker room by praising their fighting spirit, and then broke into a Muhammad Ali dance that had his players roaring and falling off their chairs.
The scene was reminiscent of the Coach L that led the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 in 2013 and 2016. Injuries and other issues have plagued the team the past few seasons, but this season the Canes’ fortunes seem to be turning.
“There’s no fun in losing,” Larranaga said. “There are no smiles or happy faces. When we win, we invite young kids and their families to come down and say hello to the players. If we lose we tell them to go home. When we lose nobody’s in a good mood. After a win my wife and I go out to dinner with friends. After a loss, I go directly home and start figuring out how to win our next one.”
Wednesday there were plenty of happy faces.
Kameron McGusty led the Hurricanes with a career-high 29 points, including four three pointers. Isaiah Wong – finally recovered from a debilitating sinus infection -- scored 20 points, and Jordan Miller had 12 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Charlie Moore scored eight points to go with five rebounds and four assists.
“There’s a lot of joy and happiness in the locker room,” McGusty said. “Everybody’s cheering each other on. We just have good energy out there. I feel like we are building off what we did in the ACC Tournament last year. We haven’t had to deal with any injuries, knock on wood. So just good morale and spirit.”
Sixth year redshirt senior Sam Waardenburg said the new team attitude was evident the morning after their blowout loss to ninth-ranked Alabama in the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando a few weeks ago. After trailing by just three at halftime of that game, the Canes were outscored 63-34 in the second half.
Waardenburg said the next morning, the players called a meeting to dissect the game tape and he felt they were “locked in” in a way he hadn’t seen the past few seasons.
There was some concern about how the team would recover after five players transferred, including point guard Chris Lykes, but incoming transfers Moore and Miller have been great additions.
“This is a group that’s very well-connected,” Larranaga said. “On the court they’re really trusting each other. Seventeen assists is a good indication. I think also the way we’re playing with Sam Waardenburg and Jordan Miller handling the ball a lot. Our bigs are not getting left out of the offense. Early in the season they were. I thought Jordan was terrific. We’re getting better.”
The Hurricanes forced 15 turnovers with the help of some mid-game adjustments by associate head coach Chris Caputo, whom Larranaga calls his defensive coordinator.
“In the second half Kam and Isaiah caught fire, we were able to find them over and over again and we ended up with 17 assists and 10 turnovers, which is a very good offensive night,” Larranaga said. “When Kam was open he made the shot, when he was guarded he put it on the ground and attacked. He used the ball screens very effectively, and he did it unselfishly. He found the open man, that’s what allowed Isaiah to have 20 points.”
Lipscomb, an ASUN conference team from Nashville, went basket for basket with the Hurricanes for most of the first half before Miami pulled ahead by nine at halftime.
McGusty made a point of thanking the fans who showed up. Miami has struggled with attendance, and although it wasn’t a big crowd Wednesday, it was spirited.
“Category 5 helps us so much, we really appreciate that,” he said. “We need all the support we can get. If we can the Watsco filled up as much as possible, that’s going to help us. It helps us bring energy and get going. So, let’s keep it going.”