Miami drops exhibition match to Saint Leo, 69-67

He had warned them.

After the intensity in practice had declined at an alarming rate the last few weeks, men’s basketball head coach Jim Larranaga told his players the night before their first and only exhibition game against the St. Leo Lions.

“You play like you practice, and if we play like this tomorrow night, you guys are going to be very disappointed in the results,” he said.

And he was right.

The results were disappointing for players, coaches and Canes fans when the visiting Lions, a Division II team located about 45 minutes north of Tampa, beat UM 69-67 in front of 2282 in attendance Friday night at the BankUnited Center.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond. So give all the credit to them,” said senior guard Trey McKinney Jones after the game.

The Lions caught the Canes off guard when they quickly jumped out to a 13-3 lead after less than four minutes of play. The visitors would be up on the Hurricanes until the seven-minute mark of the second half when Miami was able to battle back and tie it at 56 apiece. With roughly five minutes left in the game, the Canes took the lead for the first time since the beginning of the game when shooting guard Rion Brown shot a 3-pointer, giving them a 3-2 advantage. After a few more lead changes, UM had multiple chances to win the game, but missed attempts by Brown, fellow guard McKinney Jones and forward Kenny Kadji would ultimately seal Miami’s fate.

The close ending was by no means indicative of the overall game though.

The Lions shot 45.3 percent from the field with 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. The undersized Lions were even able to hold their own rebounding the ball and snagging 33 boards – just as many as a Canes team that featured three players who are listed as 6 feet 10 inches or taller. Meanwhile, the Lions’ tallest players were two inches shorter.

For Brown it came down to a lack of intensity that had carried over from practice.

“I would say so … especially in the beginning. Coach said ‘you practice how you play’ and we were practicing really lethargic the day before and it showed tonight,” he said.

St. Leo’s Trent Thomas gave the Canes a particularly tough time, scoring a game-high 23 points and making 50 percent of his 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Jones was the leading scorer for Miami with 19 points.

Lions head coach Lance Randall, who was visibly fired up after his team beat a much-hyped Hurricanes squad, would put the win in perspective afterwards.

“The reality is it doesn’t really matter, it just adds to the bull’s-eye on our back when we play teams at our level, but it’s something these guys will have forever,” he said. “It’s a nice win.”

For the Hurricanes, on the other hand, it might have been a wake-up call that couldn’t have come at a better time with the regular season opener against Stetson less than a week away.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do defensively and rebounding-wise,” Larranaga said. “It’s very, very clear in practice, but I think this St. Leo’s team sent us a message and I think the players heard it loud and clear. I’ll be very interested to seeing how we react.”