Hurricanes’ success hinges on maintaining defensive energy

Miami held NC State to 36.7 percent shooting in the second half to rally for a 65-60 victory Thursday night.

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In last week’s loss at Notre Dame, the Miami Hurricanes got burnt by the 3-pointer.

The Fighting Irish shot 46.7 percent from behind the arc in the second half of their 75-70 comeback victory in an alarming breakdown on defense for Miami.

Through the early part of Thursday’s 65-60 win over N.C. State, much of the same happened. The Wolfpack connected on three of their seven 3s by halftime, building up a 33-26 lead. But the Hurricanes (13-5, 3-2 ACC) made adjustments, limiting N.C. State to 2 of 8 from 3-point land in the second half as they bounced back and held on for the win.

In the upset blowout at Duke, the Hurricanes forced the Blue Devils into just 28.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

The same must be done in front of a hostile crowd at Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. The Orange (14-5, 5-1 ACC) expect 30,000 at the game and enter with an 11-1 home record.

Syracuse doesn’t light it up from behind the arc, averaging 4.8 made shots on 31.7 percent shooting, but the team has three players in double-figure points — senior Rakeen Christmas (18.0), redshirt junior Trevor Cooney (14.1) and junior Michael Gbinije (10.8).

"We just have to talk better and know who to switch on and who not to switch on with," redshirt junior Sheldon McClellan said. "It’s definitely something we need to work on in practice and we’ll get better at it. As long we give the effort we’ll be alright."

Miami’s defense rose to the challenge against the Wolfpack. Although freshman Abdul-Malik Abu, who entered averaging 6.7 points, scored the Wolfpack’s first 12 points of the game, he was held to just seven more the rest of the way.

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N.C. State came in averaging 72.7 points per game, fourth best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but a stingier defense held it to 27 second-half points.

After shooting 50 percent in the first half, the Wolfpack sank 36.7 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes. McClellan shut down redshirt junior Trevor Lacey, who averages 17.1 points, to 10 points. He will need to have the same kind of performance on Saturday against one of Syracuse’s top players.

Sophomore Davon Reed, in charge of guarding redshirt senior Ralston Turner (13.7), held him to nine points on 3 of 12 shooting. Freshmen Ja’Quan Newton and James Palmer were tasked with providing defense on those playmakers when they came off the bench.

"I thought our defense was pretty good for most of the first half and then we relaxed a little bit," redshirt junior Angel Rodriguez said. "We were upset about that, but we knew this was one of the most talented teams and they just go at you.

"Honestly, I thought guys were talking, guys were focused. The mentality we had and the approach we took to this game was a good one because they’re all — besides (Ralston) Turner — one-on-one players who can shoot off the dribble, make tough shots. It’s a type of game where if you’re not ready you’re going to get exposed. They can go on runs a lot of times. I thought we were ready as a team."

Head coach Jim Larranaga preaches an NBA term called ELC — "early, loud and continuous" talking on defense. He wants his players to call out screens early to help teammates. He saw more of that on Thursday. It will once again be needed on Saturday on the road.

"At halftime we just went back to emphasizing the same thing, ‘We’ve got to guard these guys," Larranaga said. "Each individual has a very good player he’s responsible for stopping. You’ve got to take on that challenge. I’m stopping my man. You know what he does, they are all very good at doing it. Stop them from getting easy shots.’ I think for the most part we played very solid the entire second half."

SETTING AN EXAMPLE

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As Rodriguez goes, so goes the Hurricanes.

After scoring just four points in Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame, Larranaga spoke with Rodriguez on Wednesday about his impact on the team. The captain shot 1 of 10 from the field during his second-worst performance of the season in South Bend, Indiana.

Four days earlier at Duke, Rodriguez posted 24 points in Miami’s upset win. When the Hurricanes dropped their first game of the season against Eastern Kentucky, he mustered one point.

Larranaga said players must use practices for two things: improvement and preparation. The former concerns one’s path toward getting better at a skill, while the latter involves readying for an opponent.

"I think all players have a certain personality in the game and his personality is so strong that when he’s right he has a tremendous impact on our team," Larranaga said. "When he’s not he also has tremendous impact but not in the right direction. I wanted to make it clear to him that it’s not just about games, it’s not just about the big games, it’s about the daily routine of practicing hard all the time. Sending a message to your teammates that you’re ready to play."

Rodriguez finished with 14 points against the Wolfpack, 11 of which came in the second half. His two free throws with five seconds remaining clinched the victory.

"He was concerned about our defense and real concerned about my effort during practice because we had the same conversation and that’s when the team had some bad losses," Rodriguez said. "He didn’t want the same thing to happen, so basically he was preventing that and of course he’s going to be on me more than anyone else because I’m the captain. I’ve got to set the sample. It’s not just the title it’s about responsibility."

RETURNING TO FORM

Reed scored a season-high 10 points in his second consecutive start on Thursday night. Reed, who didn’t make his debut until Dec. 6, 2014, because he underwent left knee surgery in September, played 31 minutes. Until Saturday’s game at Notre Dame, he hadn’t topped the 18-minute mark.

He sank a 3-pointer on Miami’s opening possession. Twice in the second half Reed sped ahead on a fastbreak for easy buckets. Rodriguez found him on an alley-oop with 12:48 remaining in the game off a turnover. He shot 4 of 6 from the field (2 of 3 from behind the arc).

"I told Davon this when he was hurt," Larranaga said. "’When you come back you’re not going to be Davon Reed before the injury. It’s going to take you a few months. It doesn’t happen in a week or a game or two.’ In the last two games specifically I’ve seen more of what Davon has been about — just great effort."

Larranaga expects him to play a pivotal role on both the boards and on defense.

his effort defensively is a major key for us in progressing in becoming a much better defensive squad.

INVESTIGATION BEGINS

Director of Athletics Blake James released a statement late Thursday after discovering that a Miami fan shoved N.C. State guard Anthony Barber in the back during the final seconds.

"After tonight’s game I was made aware of an incident involving one of our fans and a North Carolina State University student-athlete. First I want to apologize to the student-athlete involved, Coach Mark Gottfried and North Carolina State University. This type of behavior is not representative of the University of Miami or our athletic program, and will not be tolerated. We will review the video and discuss with the ACC the appropriate actions in addressing this issue."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.