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Dec 5, 2023 1:32 am

No. 15 Miami looks to clean up defense vs. Long Island

Miami bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 62-49 victory over Notre Dame in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener on Saturday, but a couple of key numbers caught coach Jim Larranaga’s eye as the Hurricanes prepare for a Wednesday home game against Long Island.

And no, it wasn’t the season-low 62 points, the first time this season the No. 15 Hurricanes (6-1) failed to get at least into the 70s.

Against the Irish, the Hurricanes had more turnovers (13) than assists (12) and were outrebounded 39-37, helping the Irish to an 11-9 advantage in second-chance points.

“To be where we want to be, we just have to improve our defense and our rebounding,” Larranaga said. “If we defend better and rebound better, we’re going to score the ball much better.”

Larranaga has long preached about the need for rebounding to his undersized team. Leading rebounder Norchad Omier (9.3 per game) and Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland (4.4) are the tallest starters at 6-foot-7.

“We’ve told the players that defense and rebounding is a very specific mindset,” Larranaga said. “Rebounding, neither team has the ball. The ball is in the air, hits the rim, the backboard, and it bounces somewhere.

“The team that goes after it harder more often is going to win the rebound battle because it’s basically a loose ball.”

Omier is particularly adept chasing down “loose” balls. Against the Irish, he had 13 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season and the 54th of his career.

“You can’t imagine how much sleep I lose because I worry about him being in foul trouble,” Larranaga said, only partially joking.

Larranaga would like to see Cleveland increase his numbers on the boards. Leading scorer Wooga Poplar (16.9 points per game to Omier’s 16.0 average) is second in rebounding (6.0) playing at guard.

“We’re at our best when we defend and rebound,” Larranaga said.

The Hurricanes should be able to improve in both categories against struggling Long Island. The Sharks (1-6) are losing the boards by an average of 6.3 rebounds a game and are being outscored by an average of 12.6 points per outing.

Former NBA star Rod Strickland set big goals for his team after being named coach in June 2022.

“The Sharks are going to be a competing program for top athletes who not only want to take their game to the next level but prepare for success,” he said then.

But that has proved easier said than done. The Sharks went 3-26 last season, making Strickland 4-32 overall.

Two players, freshman Eric Acker (13.9 ppg) and Georgia Southern transfer Tai Strickland (12.3) are averaging double figures for the Sharks. A third, R.J. Greene, puts up 9.4 points per contest.

Long Island has lost its past two outings to Northern Kentucky (72-64) and Florida International (74-59) and has three more road games after facing Miami before getting back home on Dec. 30 to oppose Albany. The Sharks’ lone win was an 83-68 decision over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Nov. 24, with Acker posting a career-high 22 points.

–Field Level Media

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