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The conference season starts early for the University of Miami as the Hurricanes play Clemson, their first ACC opponent, at home Saturday at noon.
Miami is coming off a 63-58 road win over Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The victory injected the team with a boost of confidence heading into the home conference opener.
“Our players are all already excited. They’re really looking forward to starting the ACC league race,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Our fans really need to get out there and help us because they really do help. Category 5, when the students show up, that’s a huge help for us. It really creates an electric environment in the Watsco Center.”
Miami is 11-6 in home ACC openers.
Both teams are 5-3 heading into Saturday’s game (ACC Network).
The Tigers were picked No. 11 in the ACC preseason poll after finishing 16-8 (10-6 in league) and making the NCAA Tournament last year.
Sophomore forward/center PJ Hall is Clemson’s top scorer at 13.9 points per game and is a 40 percent three-point shooter.
“I think Brad Brownell has done a terrific job there. We’ve competed against each other for not just the 10 years in the ACC, but [four more] years in the CAA,” Larrañaga said. “His team is an outstanding defensive team and an outstanding 3-point shooting team. They play very hard, very physical.
“They really do a fantastic job of developing a game plan suited to their opponent. So, they can change. Sometimes they’re going to really pressure, sometimes they’ll go zone, sometimes they’ll do a lot of switching. They really base their strategy on a lot of different elements.”
Before the Penn State game, Larranaga challenged his big men to contribute more. Sixth-year redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg listened, and led UM with 14 points, shooting 4-of-8 from 3-point range to set career highs in both categories. He scored 11 of his points in the opening seven minutes, including drilling three 3-pointers in the first five.
Also, sixth-year redshirt senior guards Kameron McGusty and Charlie Moore each scored 12 points, as did third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong, who was battling a sinus infection.
“Sam Waardenburg had, perhaps, his best game as a Miami Hurricane,” Larrañaga said. “He did everything; he defended, he shot the ball well, he handled the ball very well. And then, in the second half, I thought Charlie, Kam and Isaiah really stepped up and made big shots for us.”
Larranaga was pleased with the play of freshmen guards Bensley Joseph and Wooga Poplar.
“I would say [watching the film] reaffirmed that our freshmen did a terrific job defensively when Charlie Moore and Kam McGusty were in foul trouble the first half,” Larranaga said. “We didn’t lose the lead and not play well when they were in the game.”
The Hurricanes are 14-17 all-time against Clemson, including 14-12 since 2001, 8-4 at home and 8-6 under Larrañaga. Miami upset the fifth-seeded Tigers, 67-64, on March 10, 2021, in the second round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., in the teams’ most recent meeting.