The final buzzer rang through the Watsco Center Friday night, ending the worst University of Miami men’s basketball season in 27 years; and yet, Hurricane players found reason to celebrate as they ran into the tunnel.
Despite an injury-ravaged roster, they had just beaten Boston College 80-76 on Senior Night and snapped a six-game losing streak. Senior center Nysier Brooks, a spirited team leader through even the darkest moments, scored a career-high 21 points and fellow senior Kam McGusty fell one point shy of a career high with 27 points.
The win secured the Canes a No. 13 seed in the ACC tournament, where they will open Tuesday at 2 p.m. against No. 12 seed Pittsburgh in Greensboro, N.C.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga and his players said they now have a boost of energy and confidence heading into the postseason after ending the regular season at 8-16, the worst record for a UM team since the Canes went 0-18 in the Big East in 1993-94. It was also coach Larranaga’s lowest winning percentage in 23 years and the third consecutive losing season for Miami after making the NCAA Tournament three years in a row and twice reaching the Sweet 16.
“This was a huge game,” Larranaga said Friday night, after posing for photos with his seniors. “We have struggled mightily with our roster, so few players, so many injuries, and the strain you feel mentally when you’re not winning and yet our guys have had a great attitude and work ethic.
“We’re going to be able to go into the ACC tournament feeling a lot better about ourselves than we did. Once you go into the ACC tournament, everyone’s record is the same, zero and zero, so if we could somehow score 80 points again, I’d be very happy and optimistic that would give us a chance to win the game.”
Brooks added: “I’m really happy we got this win going into the ACC tournament because a lot of crazy things happen in March. I would rather win late than early. This could be the momentum we need to get the jump into the ACC tournament and hopefully get ourselves a March Madness bid.”
The UM men’s basketball program is trying to rebound from a three-year slide that began when the program was linked to an FBI investigation. Although the team was cleared, recruiting suffered for the next two cycles. There has also been a rash of injuries that left the Canes with just six healthy scholarship players much of this season.
Preseason All-ACC point guard Chris Lykes injured his ankle on Dec. 4 and never played again. Sam Waardenburg (foot) missed the entire season. Rodney Miller (back), Earl Timberlake (shoulder), and Harlond Beverly (back) missed considerable time.
Asked if there may be an issue with the team’s strength and conditioning program, Larranaga said that was not the problem, that it was just bad luck.
“This is the second year in a row (with injuries), but this year was quite a bit different than any other season because we didn’t work out at all in April, May, June or most of July, so I don’t blame COVID, but there were some very freakish injuries, injuries I had never heard of before,” he said.
“Chris Lykes’ sprained ankle was very unusual because that is usually couple of weeks or days and it turned out to be the whole season. We’ve had some very strange circumstances. Those guys were very frustrated by it. I was certainly disappointed that we didn’t have the team we recruited and didn’t play a single game at full strength.”
Larranaga stressed that “We went seven straight years of very, very good basketball here…It’s not me or what we do at practice, I’ve had teams where we had the same starting lineup every game of the season, same substitution pattern.”
Larranaga has been meeting with players to begin assessing their futures. Due to the pandemic, the NCAA is granting all players an extra year of eligibility. So, even the seven seniors can choose to come back, turn pro or enter the transfer portal.
After initial talks, Larranaga said he expects players to decide in April.
“What I’ve asked them to do is realistically look at what their journey is going to be. Which direction are they going in?”
“My wife and were talking to them about paying taxes. The conversation was with three adults, these guys are 22 years old. I said to them, ‘Do you understand I was married when I was 21? I was making life decisions, paying a mortgage, planning a family, working a job that I wanted to develop into a career and you guys are still enjoying the college life. What do your futures look like? Do I want to return to Miami and try to complete the kind of season we thought we were going to have, do you want to turn professional and try to earn a living now or consider putting your name in a transfer portal and go someplace and try to realize a better future where you think the grass is greener someplace else?’”