CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The buzz was building throughout Friday at the University of Miami. ESPN was readying the set for its first 'College GameDay' broadcast from the campus as a prelude to the most important Hurricanes football game in more than a decade.
The Hurricanes men's basketball team tapped into the vibe to get the high-octane weekend started with a season-opening 77-45 romp against Gardner-Webb at the Watsco Center, though the crowd was lacking. Already lining up for a choice spot for at Saturday morning's 'GameDay?'
The November focus is understandably on football, but Jim Larranaga's crew gave a first glimpse of intriguing possibilities for the winter. Their ranking, at No. 13, is the highest UM has ever occupied in the preseason poll.
Talented but very young, Larranaga took the wraps off what may be the best recruiting class UM has ever had.
Much of the high regard with this young but talented team is tied to Lonnie Walker IV, the five-star freshman from Reading, Pa., who expected to be a one-and-done lottery pick in the next NBA draft.
Walker appeared poised and fluid while scoring 10 in his debut.
Speculation already has Walker and returning sophomore Bruce Brown as the top two shooting guards in the draft.
Let the record show that Walker's first basket for UM came on an alley-oop feed from Brown. A couple of minutes later, Walker nonchalantly drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Miami its first lead with 11:38 remaining in the half.
Later, the 6-foot-5 guard who plays bigger, swooped in for a rebound and lay-in.
Brown finished with 10 points, while Ebuka Izundu and Dewan Huell led Miami with 14 apiece.
Although they handled Gardner-Webb with relative ease in their first meeting ever with the unranked Big South opponent, the 'Canes were in early November form.
After slogging to a 27-23 lead at the intermission, the Hurricanes asserted themselves with a 14-0 surge to open the second half. They pushed the advantage to double digits on a dunk by Huell. The sophomore forward tallied eight of those points while hitting 4 of 5 shots.
The second half was a much better indication of what this Miami bunch is capable of as the passes were crisper and the shots fell with more regularity. They shot 64 percent in the second half after a paltry 33.3 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
Huell and senior point guard Ja'Quan Newton led the way as Miami asserted its dominance in the second half.
It took a while to get the offense clicking. UM had success early working inside to junior center Ebuka Izundu, who led them at the half with eight points. But otherwise often settled for the long jumper without much effect.
The 'Canes were slow to find traction, falling behind 7-0. It took more than four minutes before Brown took matters in hand and drove from the left side for the first UM points of the season.
UM started 1 for 7 from the field, and was 0 for 6 on 3-point attempts before Walker found the mark. That was the only 3-pointer in 13 attempts for UM in the half; they shot 33.3 percent (9-for-27) on the way to a mere four-point margin at the intermission.
Chris Lykes, like Walker a McDonald's and Jordan Brand All-American, introduced himself by hitting a long 3-pointer.
Nonetheless, one of the biggest cheers of the night was when the PA announcer reminded the crowd that Miami's No. 7-ranked football team would take on No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Yes, it is November, after all. But the winter shows promise for UM as well.
Gardner-Webb freshman Nate Johnson, a Sun-Sentinel first-team All-County choice from McArthur High, made his college debut with four points.
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