The Dream Season: Part I

The Dream Season: Part I

by Alex Schwartz

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – This is the first installment of a seven-segment series creating the “dream” University of Miami men’s basketball season from Jim Larrañaga’s nine-year tenure, since 2011-12.

What does that mean? We went through every option for each game number—i.e. all nine season openers, all nine 23rd games of a season—and picked the best one of each group to form that “dream” season.

Some selections were made due to win quality, others for a memorable finish and others for historical achievements. Some include all of that, but each game is special in some way.

In Part I, we make the top choice for each of the first five games. The list includes Larrañaga’s opening outing at The U, a trio of top-20 triumphs and a triple-digit point total.

Game 1… Nov. 11, 2011: Miami 69, Tennessee Tech 58 (Coral Gables, Fla.)

The first game and first win for Jim Larrañaga at The U.

Miami trailed by five, 32-27, at halftime, but fully controlled the second frame. Redshirt junior guard Trey McKinney Jones notched 10 of his 12 points after the break, as Miami outscored the Golden Eagles, 42-26, over the final 20 minutes.

Junior guard Durand Scott paced the Hurricanes with 15 points, while redshirt senior guard Malcolm Grant logged 14 and sophomore forward Erik Swoope tallied 11. The Hurricanes shot 20-of-25 from the free-throw line and held Tennessee Tech to a 40.4 percent mark from the field to overcome a sluggish shooting night of their own.

Game 2… Nov. 17, 2014: Miami 69, #8/7 Florida 67 (Gainesville, Fla.)

The Angel Rodriguez game. The miraculous comeback. The rivalry road upset. There are multiple ways to remember this one.

Sporting a 15-point lead with 16:40 left, the top-10 Gators, coming off a Final Four berth, appeared poised to extend their school-record home winning streak to 34 games. The edge still sat at 14 with 8:05 to play, but then Miami mounted a furious rally. After a layup from freshman forward Omar Sherman, Rodriguez knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to make it 54-51 with 4:57 to go. Junior center Tonye Jekiri put Miami in front just 1:09 later, but the Gators went back ahead, 67-65, with 61 seconds to play.

Rodriguez, a redshirt junior, then hit one of the most memorable shots in Miami history. In just his second game as a Hurricane, Rodriguez drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 16 ticks remaining to put the Hurricanes on top, 68-67. Not done yet, Rodriguez drew a charge at the other end with three seconds to play and then added a free throw to make it a two-point final margin.

Rodriguez finished with a game-high 24 points, all but two of which came in the final 9:02 of action. He went 5-of-7 from 3-point range and added a game-best three steals.

Game 3… Nov. 19, 2015: Miami 105, Mississippi State 79 (San Juan, P.R.)

Miami’s top point total against a Division I opponent in 11 years.

The Hurricanes went to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off unranked, but turned in a dazzling week that catapulted them into the top 25 for the remainder of the season. It started with complete domination against the Bulldogs.

Seven Hurricanes finished with double-digit points, while two others tallied eight. Miami recorded 26 points off turnovers and 50 from its bench in a game it led by as many as 31. It marked the first time in six years the Hurricanes hit the century mark against any opponent, the first time away from home in 25 years and the first time in a non-home regulation victory in 27 years.

Redshirt junior guard Sheldon McClellan, who went 6-of-6 at the line and 2-of-3 from deep, led Miami with 18 points and sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton added 15. The Hurricanes finished with a 34-of-60 (56.7 percent) clip from the field, including a 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) mark beyond the arc.

Game 4… Nov. 20, 2015: Miami 90, #16 Utah 66 (San Juan, P.R.)

The second-largest ranked win of the Larrañaga era proved the 2015-16 Hurricanes were a force to be reckoned with.

In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off semifinals, Miami thoroughly manhandled a top-20 Utah team that went on to finish 27-9 and featured both Kyle Kuzma and Jakob Poeltl. The Hurricanes led by as many as 27 and never trailed, while scoring 23 points off 16 turnovers and conceding just four off seven of its own.

Redshirt junior guard Sheldon McClellan had a coming-out party in his fourth appearance as a Hurricane, tallying a game-high 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Junior center Tonye Jekiri outplayed Poeltl, a future top-10 NBA Draft selection, to the tune of a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double. Redshirt junior guard Angel Rodriguez posted 11 points and a team-best four assists, helping propel him towards tournament MVP honors in his home country.

Game 5… Nov. 28, 2012: Miami 67, #13/14 Michigan State 59 (Coral Gables, Fla.)

The Hurricanes’ first top-25 win over a non-ACC foe since December 2004 served as the day the best team in Miami basketball history put the country on notice.

Facing a top-15 powerhouse foe coming off a Big Ten title, the Hurricanes entered unranked and left with a court-storming celebration. Buoyed by a five-and-a-half minute second-half stretch during which Miami did not allow a point and went up by 12, the Hurricanes earned a Big Ten/ACC Challenge triumph over a team with three five-star recruits, including Gary Harris, an eventual top-20 NBA draftee.

Redshirt senior guard Trey McKinney Jones led all scorers with 18 points and turned in a 5-of-7 performance from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Shane Larkin and senior guard Durand Scott each added 15 points, while redshirt senior center Reggie Johnson logged a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double.  Meanwhile, the Hurricanes held Denzel Valentine, a future national player of the year, to three points in 22 minutes.