Full of newcomers, Hurricanes need time to come together

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — University of Miami freshman guard Manu Lecomte drove to the basket and tried a shuffle pass to sophomore center Tonye Jekiri during the first half of Thursday night’s game against Central Florida.

Jekiri, who is used to catching lobs, didn’t expect the pass and the ball went out of bounds. A similar play occurred later in the game, when a player threw to an open teammate who wasn’t even looking for the ball.

Signs of Miami’s growing pains were ever-present in Thursday’s 63-58 loss to the Knights at BankUnited Center.

“Every guy has his own mindset,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “If you’re not connected to your teammate, it doesn’t matter if you’re thinking something correct and he’s thinking something correct [if] you’re not thinking the same thing.

“That’s a sign of inexperience.”

After winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships last year, the Hurricanes are composed of nine newcomers and no returning starters.

There are just nine scholarship players, and no household names like Shane Larkin around.

Every guy must contribute.

It looked as though the Hurricanes (3-2) had started to find a groove following a season-opening loss on Nov. 8 by winning three in a row.

But the Hurricanes shot 34.5 percent in the first half against the Knights (3-1), snapping a streak of four straight halves making 50 percent or more of their attempts. The offense mustered 21 first-half points and trailed by seven.

As a team, Miami recorded just eight assists over 40 minutes. At one point, Larranaga put four guards on the court to foster more ball movement.

“I think the chemistry comes and goes,” Larranaga said. “Monday night we really shared the ball beautifully, played good team defense, did a lot of very good things and looked like a good basketball team.

“(Thursday) we had none of those signs in the first half. It was like they had just met. You have to give some credit to Central Florida, but quite honestly I thought our players mentally weren’t focused at all.”

Larranaga also wasn’t pleased with the way the team closed out the game. After trimming an 11-point deficit to two with a little more than two minutes remaining, the Hurricanes committed two costly turnovers and allowed an easy dunk.

A few bright spots, however, offer a glimpse into a promising future as the season progresses.

Freshman guard Davon Reed finished with a career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

Reed, who hurt his ankle during Monday’s game, didn’t practice Wednesday and limped in pregame shootaround, wasn’t a guarantee for Larranaga on Thursday.

Bouncing back nicely from a 3-point performance in Charleston, Reed could be a viable scoring option to fill in for Deandre Burnett, who will miss his rookie season with an injury.

“Just looking to be more aggressive,” Reed said. “My teammates got me the ball (Thursday). Had a better night (Thursday), but our job is to win, and we didn’t accomplish that.”

Graduate guard Garrius Adams scored a game-high 20 points with eight rebounds, but he committed six turnovers. He missed all of last season with an injury and is still working off rust.

“I was more aggressive going to the basket,” Adams said. “I finally listened to my coaches. They were saying just go to the paint, make something happen.”

Senior guard Rion Brown added his fifth straight game of double-digit points (11). He was the only player to start for Miami last year.

Lecomte was held scoreless for the first time all season, one game after setting a career-high with 14 points and five assists. He collected more turnovers (three) than assists (two) Thursday.

The freshman from Belgium is an example of the team’s inexperience that Larranaga and the fan base must be patient with.

“He’s the kind of player that can find open men, but he’s new to the college game,” Larranaga said. “He’s a freshman playing well over 30 minutes a game and different styles of defense we’re playing. He’s having to learn on the job.”

Miami next travels to Anaheim, Calif., over Thanksgiving weekend to compete in the Wooden Legacy for three games.

Thursday pits the team with George Washington followed by either Marquette or Cal State Fullerton. The former eliminated the Hurricanes from last season’s NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16.

“I think the main thing to do is get some more team chemistry, be around each other more, continue to learn each other and grow as a team and be one,” Brown said. “We all have to be on the same mindset. There are plays out there you can tell we aren’t all thinking alike. And that’s the difference in the game.

“When we’re all on the same page we play great. Just for us get on a roll, maybe do us some good to get away and do some team bonding and look to play well in California.”