Miami appears to have regained the energy and focus it lacked during its only loss of the season.
Facing its first competition in 11 days, the well-rested No. 18 Hurricanes look to maintain both Friday night against visiting Eastern Kentucky.
Two days after losing 68-55 at home to Green Bay, Miami (9-1) bounced back by allowing its fewest points of the season in a 70-39 victory over Savannah State on Dec. 8.
”It was good that we didn’t have a lot of time to sulk over our loss,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “I told them I’ve very proud of them … and that we still have a heck of a lot of work ahead.”
The Hurricanes are off to the program’s best start since the 2009-10 team went 15-1, but Larranaga knows that means little if they can’t play to a high level for a full 40 minutes. He saw an unacceptable effort against Green Bay, as his team shot a season-low 32.8 percent, was outrebounded 46-37 and basically couldn’t match the overall energy exuded by the determined Phoenix.
Though their most recent victory came against an even less formidable opponent, the Hurricanes found the intensity that was often displayed through their first eight contests. They shot 51.2 percent and held the Tigers to 32.6 percent, 16 second-half points and forced 19 turnovers they turned into 19 points.
“Coach told us that we’ve got to play much harder and tougher,” said center Tonye Jekiri, whose nine rebounds helped Miami own a 34-24 advantage on the glass.
“We’re athletic, we can play good defense and shoot the ball.”
Guard Sheldon McClellan (16.2 points per game) regained his shooting touch against Savannah making 4 of 5 shots. The Texas transfer shot 43.8 percent against Green Bay – the worst of a seven-game stretch during which he’s gone 49 of 80 (61.3 percent) from the field and 11 of 21 from 3-point range.
Backcourt mate Angel Rodriguez scored 17 points and went 4 of 9 from beyond the arc against Savannah. Though Rodriguez (14.2 ppg) went 4 of 12 from the field, it was a slightly better effort than his 2-of-15 shooting performance in the previous contest.
“We just tell the whole team that every game is one entity,” Larranaga said.
After a lengthy layoff for final exams, the Hurricanes expect to take that same approach into this contest.
Eastern Kentucky (5-4), which fell 82-49 at top-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 7, lost for the fourth time in five games, 63-60 to visiting East Tennessee State on Tuesday.
Guard Corey Walden averages a team-leading 17.2 points on 52.0 percent shooting, and is 6 of 11 from beyond the arc in his last two contests. The senior from Daytona Beach had nine points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals against Miami while playing at Stetson during the 2010-11 season.
The Hurricanes won 86-64 in their most recent meeting with the Colonels on Nov. 24, 1997.