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No. 24 Miami hosts fellow small-ball school La Salle


La Salle is off to a surprisingly strong start after at least one national magazine predicted the Explorers would finish last in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

On Saturday afternoon, LaSalle (8-2) will visit the 24th-ranked Miami Hurricanes (7-2).

One of La Salle’s two losses this season was a triple-overtime classic at Temple. The other was a blowout defeat at Duke.

On paper, the Hurricanes and Explorers are similar in that both play small ball with four guards. In addition, both teams get a great majority of their production from their starters.

La Salle, which has been off a full week since winning at Lafayette, 67-51, is led in rebounding by 6-foot-10, 260-pound center Rokas Jocius, who is averaging 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Every other player in LaSalle’s rotation is a guard, including Khalil Brantley, who leads the team in scoring (16.1). Jhamir Brickus is averaging 15.6 points while leading the team in assists (5.3) and steals (1.6).

Anwar Gill averages 12.3 points, and Daeshon Shepherd averages 10.2 points.

Andres Marrero is perhaps La Salle’s most underrated player. He ranks fifth on the team in scoring (8.3). But he leads the team in foul shooting (90.9 percent) and 3-point percentage (47.9). Marrero had a game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to beat Loyola Maryland 62-61 on Dec. 6.

“He has supreme confidence in his shooting ability,” La Salle coach Fran Dunphy said. “Opponents don’t want to let him get too many shots. He’s not the fastest or the quickest, so he has to work 10 times harder than anybody else to get shots.”

Miami, meanwhile, has lost two games this season — at Kentucky and on a neutral court against Colorado in the Hurricanes’ most recent contest on Sunday. Both of those games were close at halftime, but Miami got blown out after intermission.

“It humbled us,” Hurricanes guard Nijel Pack said. “It woke us up.”

Including the game against La Salle, the Hurricanes have three games left before they start their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule on Jan. 3 against visiting Clemson.

So far, Wooga Poplar leads Miami in scoring (15.9), foul shooting (88.0 percent) and 3-point percentage (52.3), but this team is built on balance within its starting five.

Norchad Omier is averaging 15.7 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds. Matthew Cleveland is averaging 15 points. Pack is averaging 12.8 points and a team-high 3.9 assists. And defensive ace Bensley Joseph is averaging 8.8 points and a team-high 1.9 steals.

Omier, at 6-7 and 235 pounds, is the one post player in Miami’s starting five, and what he lacks in height he makes up for in muscle.

All five of Miami’s starters are shooting better than 37 percent on 3-pointers.

Pack, though, said Miami’s bench — led by Kyshawn George, Christian Watson, AJ Casey and Michael Nwoko — will be the key to the season.

“We need their contributions,” Pack said. “We have a lot of guys on the bench who are younger, but we have seen their improvement from Game 1 to now.

“As we get closer to ACC play, that’s what makes the difference between winning and losing.”

–Field Level Media

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