Canes Hoops begin season with blowout of UT Rio Grande Valley

Junior Tonye Jekiri makes a slam dunk during Wednesday night’s 76-52 win over Virginia Tech at the BankUnited Center. Nick Gangemi // Photo Editor

Opening night of the 2015-16 season finished as a success. The Hurricanes took down the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros (UTRGV) in a one-sided 86-59 victory at the BankUnited Center Friday night.

Despite maintaining a lead throughout a majority of the contest, the game was a true tale of two halves for the Canes’ offense. In the first half, the team shot a weak 27.6 percent from the field and even more abysmal 8.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Canes were able to up their numbers in the second half to 54.5 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from downtown.

One of the main contributors to the shooting turnaround was senior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, who was able to knock down four triples. Uceda is most effective on offense from behind the three-point line, and he should be able to help the Canes spread the floor on offense this season.

“If he can spot-up and get an open three, like he did tonight, he is a very good three-point shooter,” Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said of Uceda.

Uceda, who scored 16 points against the Vaqueros, lost 20 pounds over the off-season, and he hopes that a slimmer physique will lead to an effective senior season.

“I was trying to get physically as good as I could to help my team out,” Uceda said.

Uceda’s teammates are excited by his weight loss as well.

“He was fat last year. Once he lost that weight it’s better for us, he can guard better,” said redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan, who led the Canes in scoring with 18 points.

Although the team did not shoot well from the field in the opening 20 minutes, they shot extremely well from the free throw line at 91.7 percent in the first half. Free throws were a common theme throughout the game, as the Canes were able to reach the charity stripe 33 times.

Senior center Tonye Jekiri anchored the paint. He led the Hurricanes with 12 rebounds, and he was a key reason why Miami out-rebounded UTGRV 45-34.

Despite the large margin of victory, the score was relatively close in the early going. In fact, the game was once tied at 15.

“We had some pre-game jitters. You know the first game, but in the second half we settled in. We got more comfortable on offense and defense,” McClellan said.

The offense clicked as the night progressed, but redshirt senior point guard Angel Rodriguez struggled to score throughout the game. He shot 1-of-7 from beyond the three-point line, and was only able to muster five points. Larrañaga believes that the Rodriguez’s shooting struggles should not fall solely on his shoulders and that his teammates should not put him in bad situations.

“A guy passes up a wide-open shot with seven seconds on the shot clock, and passes it to him with five seconds left on the shot clock. In the NBA, I think they call that, ‘they threw him a bomb,’ because it just blows up,” Larrañaga said.

Rodriguez did throw two impressive transition alley-oops to McClellan.

Hours before tip-off, much-hyped redshirt junior Kamari Murphy was suspended for the Canes’ first three games of the season.

“Kamari broke a team rule. It’s unfortunate, he is a great kid,” Larrañaga said. “He made a mistake and is paying a very dear price. We are looking forward to having him back.”

The Hurricanes next face Louisiana 7 p.m. Monday at the BankUnited Center.