Wooga Poplar’s career high leads ‘Canes Men’s Basketball past NJIT in season opener

Fourth-year junior guard Nijel Pack and fourth-year junior forward Norchad Omier defend an attempted shot by Kjell de Graaf in the second half of Miami's game against NJIT at the Watsco Center on Nov. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

Miami started their road back to the final four on a positive note as they took down the NJIT Highlanders 101-60 at the Watsco Center on Monday night.

The ‘Canes shot 54% from the field and 43% from behind the arc. Even Junior Norchad Omier got his share of threes. The big man for Miami was 2-2 from behind the arc. Junior Wooga Poplar’s career-high 21 points was just part of Miami’s great night shooting the basketball. Poplar was 5-9 from three-point range.

“He’s great. He’s him,” said Miami coach Jim Larreñaga. “The guy can shoot threes, his pull up jumper is amazing, he missed a few of them today but he’s a terrific player.”

Miami started fast, jumping to a 13-point lead early in the first half. Junior Bensley Joseph led the ‘Canes with defensive tenacity. The newfound offensive prowess from three-point range by Omier also aided in the sizable lead for the ‘Canes. That early domination from Omier was just a taste of what would end up being a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double for him.

The Highlanders stayed with the ‘Canes for the early portion of the game. They went on a 9-0 run to cut Miami’s lead to four halfway through the first half. The closest that the Highlanders were able to get was six. Miami never looked back from there on out.

A string of three balls from junior Wooga Poplar and Joseph extended the ‘Canes lead to 19 with just over 4 minutes to play in the first half. Poplar’s long ball helped the ‘Canes secure their sizable first-half lead. With 13 points, Poplar led all scorers in the first half. Miami led NJIT by 20, 52-32 at halftime.

Miami would maintain a comfortable lead into the start of the second half as their starters continued to log minutes. Miami would go on a 21-2 scoring run midway through the second half. This impressive scoring run would put the ‘Canes up by 40. That lead would not go away as the ‘Canes reached triple digits for the first time since a 107-point performance against Cornell last year.

Senior guard Adam Hess was the leader for the Highlanders, scoring 14 points on 4-14 shooting. Freshman Tariq Francis was the Highlanders’ leader in assists with five.

Junior guard Nijel Pack had a great night as a facilitator. Pack recorded nine assists in 30 minutes of play as the leader for the ‘Canes. Pack was responsible for setting up many of the ‘Canes open looks that resulted in essential points.

The Miami youngsters also got a ton of action on Monday night. Freshman Micheal Nwoko had nine points, along with a solid defensive effort. Kyshawn George showed more of his raw skill as he was beaten on his defensive assignments several times. Overall, it was an encouraging performance for the underclassman.

The ‘Canes got a big-time performance from junior Matthew Clevland. In his first game as a ‘Cane, he recorded a double-double with 16 points and ten rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Cleveland was aggressive and played tough under the rim all night long.

“It’s nice,” said the FSU transfer Cleveland. “Playing with the guys, they make it easy.”

The ‘Canes take the court for their second game of the season this Friday against their in-state rivals, the UCF Knights. Miami will hang their Final Four banner from last season on Friday night as well. Tip-off for that out-of-conference matchup will take place at 7 p.m.