With his team having lost three of its last four games before the break for Christmas, University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga had a message for his Hurricanes when they got back on campus.
That message concerned their lack of effort on defense that Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky, and Providence had exploited in handing the Hurricanes double-digit defeats over a 16-day span.
To get it across to his players, Larranaga added to the practice routine what he called “a few reminders” on the importance of playing defense.
Each time a player failed to hustle back on defense, the entire team was required to run sprints.
“When Angel Rodriguez didn’t get back, we stopped practice and ran,” Larranaga said. “When Omar Sherman didn’t get back, we stopped practice and ran. I said, ‘You can either play basketball, or we can spend the whole time running.’ ”
To their credit, the players got the message.
Tuesday night in their first game in eight days following the 14-point loss to Providence on Dec. 22, the Hurricanes held College of Charleston to just 29.6 percent shooting in recording a much-needed easy 67-40 victory.
The victory gave the Hurricanes a 10-3 record, which is their best start in four seasons under Larranaga.
With third-ranked Virginia coming to Coral Gables next, it also gives them a little shot of confidence as they go Atlantic Coast Conference play. From now until March, it will be nothing but ACC opponents for the Hurricanes.
“Huge,” Larranaga said of the impact of the win. “It’s not just going into Saturday. We lost three out of four games. Maybe one of them, the Providence game, was against a very high level opponent.
“But the other two losses was clearly a lack of defensive effort, and that impacted our offense as well. We were not very sharp offensively.”
The Hurricanes corrected both against College of Charleston, which came into the game with a 5-7 record after losing its last three games.
Though they began the game hitting only one of their first 10 field goal attempts, the Hurricanes were 22-of-41 (53.7 percent) the rest of the way. After missing their first six 3-point attempts, they made seven of their last 14. They also had 18 assists — as many as they had in the losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky combined — on their 23 field goals.
About the only area they were not effective on offense was at the free throw line, where they were only 14-of-27 for 51.9 percent, far below their 73.9 percent effectiveness coming into the night.
“I think the guys hopefully understand — the message is very, very clear — that to be successful, you have to play really hard, you have to run the court really fast, and you’ve got go play defense,” Larranaga said, “and rebound the ball.”