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Miami Hurricanes begin season with rout of NJIT

CORAL GABLES — Seven months after concluding the most successful season in program history, the Hurricanes returned to the Watsco Center court and opened the 2023-24 season with a bang.

Junior Wooga Poplar paced Miami with 23 points in a season-opening, 101-60 victory over the New Jersey Institute of Technology Monday night.

“I thought that was a very good opening night for us,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said.”A lot of guys played. A lot of guys played well. … We shared the ball very well. We ended up with 23 assists, and we scored the ball from three, from two, in fast breaks. So it was a good night for us.”

The Hurricanes rolled throughout the game, taking an early lead and never looking back. Miami shot 54.2 percent from the floor and hit 12 of 28 three-pointers. They out-rebounded NJIT 48-36.

Poplar hit half of his 16 shots and went five of nine from behind the arc. He added three rebounds and an assist.

“He’s great,” Larrañaga said. “The guy can shoot threes. His pull-up jumper is amazing — he missed a few of them today; I think he made a couple. He’s a terrific player.”

Transfer Matthew Cleveland, last seen at the Watsco Center sinking a buzzer-beating winner for FSU, had a strong Hurricanes deut. He notched a double-double, scoring 16 points and tying for the team lead with 10 rebounds.

“It felt good,” Cleveland said. “Just getting to play with the guys was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun out there.”

Returning forward Norchad Omier also recorded his first double-double of the year, scoring 21 points with 10 rebounds. Nijel Pack added eight points with nine assists and five rebounds.

Miami rotated in 11 players against the overmatched Highlanders. Freshmen Kyshawn George, Michael Nwoko and Paul Djobet all made their college debuts. Nwoko led them with nine points, while Djobet had two.

“I thought Michael did a really good job,” Larrañaga said. “I thought A.J. (Casey) did a good job. Christian Watson did a good job. And I thought Kyshawn, he showed his inexperience. A couple times, he got beat defensively. He was, I think, looking at the ball, and his man beat him on a cut. Then he closed out on a guy, and the guy just drove right by him. So he’s got some things he’s got to learn, but he’s a really good player.”

The Hurricanes face UCF on Friday, and they will raise their Final Four banner that night as they try to pick up their second win to start the season.

“Momentum doesn’t happen after one game,” Larrañaga said. “Momentum happens when you get on a winning streak, when you win a bunch of games in a row.”

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