Miami faces Middle Tennessee as consolation prize

HONOLULU — Miami expected to play for a title in the Diamond Head Classic, but the Hurricanes saw their hopes of a championship dashed 63-54 by New Mexico State on Saturday in the semifinals of the holiday tournament at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Instead of meeting USC in Monday’s first-place game, the No. 6 Hurricanes (10-1) will face Middle Tennessee, which lost to USC 89-84 in Saturday’s first semifinal.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga will have to deal with what he felt was a lack of energy from his team.

“That’s going to be interesting,” Larranaga said. “(Christmas Eve) will be a preparation day. We didn’t really have much preparation for this game (against the Aggies).

“We need to prepare properly, and our guys need to get some rest so we have some energy.”

Middle Tennessee got 28 points and 11 rebounds from leading scorer Nick King, but the Blue Raiders fell short as Trojans big men Chimezie Metu (27) and Bennie Boatwright (23) combined for 50 points.

USC had a 26-11 edge in made free throws, and that’s the same sort of problem that Middle Teenessee may face against Miami.

“The difference was at the free-throw line,” Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. “When you get outscored at the free throw line 26-11, that’s the game. The (Trojans) are a talented team, and that was a heck of a college basketball game. But if you look at the stats, the difference in that game was the free throws.”

On the other hand, Middle Tennessee has a bona fide star in King, who entered the Diamond Head Classic averaging 22 points per game. On Saturday, he showed why.

“Nick played his tail off today,” Davis said. “Twenty-eight points and 11 rebounds is a high-level game around the rim against Metu and Boatwright, who are really good players.”

In addition to finding a way to energize the Hurricanes after a disappointing first loss, Larranaga has some serious shooting woes to fix. Miami was 18 of 53 from the floor in the loss to New Mexico State. That included 2- of 18 from 3-point range.

“In basketball, there are only two simple things you have to do,” Larranaga said. “One, you have to put the ball in the basket, and, two, you have to stop the other team from putting the ball in the basket. We didn’t do either well enough tonight.”

In fact, other than a strong 13-point night from Bruce Brown Jr. in the second half and consistent play from DJ Vasiljevic, who led the team with 15 points, Larranaga didn’t find much to like about the way the Hurricanes competed against the Aggies.

“I would have preferred us to play a little faster,” Larranaga said. “We just didn’t show the energy to push the ball. … I thought our energy level was so low we were almost wearing galoshes.”