ACC-leading Hurricanes will need Joseph, other bench players, to step up vs Tar Heels

·4 min read

The Miami Hurricanes’ veteran starting guards -- Charlie Moore, Kam McGusty and Isaiah Wong – deservedly get much of the credit for leading UM to a 13-4 record and the top of the ACC standings heading into Tuesday’s home game against North Carolina.

Between them they have scored 46.7 points per game and all three have gone off for 25 or more points at least once.

But without the contribution of the bench, Miami likely would not have won nine games in a row. The bench averaged 14.5 points in wins against Duke, Syracuse, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. Last Tuesday night, FSU’s bench outscored Miami’s 25-0 and snapped the Hurricanes’ win streak.

The Hurricanes will need Anthony Walker, Wooga Poplar, Bensley Joseph, Deng Gak and Rodney Miller, Jr., to play a bigger role against the Tar Heels on Tuesday.

“It was very, very disappointing that our bench was not able to contribute at the offensive end at all against Florida State. Zero points,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “They’ve been so good in other games, including the game before against Duke. Anthony Walker and Wooga Poplar scored, against Syracuse, Bensley Joseph nailed a couple of threes.

“We did not have a great game from our bench and unfortunately that’s one of Florida State’s greatest strengths.”

Had the Miami bench players scored even two points, the win streak might still be alive.

One of the non-starters who has been clutch in most games is Joseph, a freshman point guard. The Massachusetts native was a four-star recruit coming out of Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut. He was rated the No. 14 point guard in the Class of 2021 and Top 100 overall by a few recruiting sites.

When he committed to UM, he said one key reason was: “The way Coach Larranaga brings his point guards up and how they develop so much. I feel I could be the next one.”

After the first few weeks of practice, Joseph was concerned about how much playing time he would get. Larranaga and his staff analyzed Joseph’s statistics to that point, showed him what he needed to improve, and he got to work with the guidance of his older teammates.

He is averaging 12.3 minutes, 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He hit a pair of three-pointers at critical moments against Syracuse and had seven points in 19 minutes against N.C. State.

Best of all, Larranaga said, Joseph has never stopped smiling since he arrived on campus.

“Bensley Joseph smiles every day,” Larranaga said. “In fact, our three freshmen are all that way. Wooga, Jakai Robinson is quieter, but all three have positive upbeat personalities, which I love. In Bensley’s case, he has taken to heart the idea of improving, playing smarter, being more selective with his shots. He’s been our sixth man the whole season and a key contributor at both ends of the court. He’ll keep getting better and better.”

Joseph conceded that there was an adjustment period as he transitioned to the college game. But he remained optimistic.

“I’m a positive energy guy,” he said. “I’m learning every single game. Learning with these older guys, they’re teaching me a lot and I’m having fun.”

The highlight of the season so far, he said, was the road win at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“That feeling was indescribable,” Joseph said. “I had a little pause when that game was over because I grew up watching Duke and all the superstars, so playing on that court, against famous Coach K, it felt so surreal. I was in shock for a moment. It felt good going up against those Crazies, having them in silence felt really good. To go in there as an underdog…people don’t expect us to go in that gym and win a game like that in that hostile environment. It was so fun and surreal.”

The Hurricanes’ next two games are at the Watsco Center. They play Tuesday against North Carolina (7 p.m.) and have a Saturday rematch against FSU (2 p.m.)

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