The promising beginning for the University of Miami men’s basketball team has taken a huge hit from its trip to Hawaii.
Coach Jim Larranaga announced Sunday evening that center Reggie Johnson will be out six-to-eight weeks because of the thumb injury the senior sustained in practice the day before the Hurricanes played in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
Johnson never appeared in any of the three games the Hurricanes played in the event that ended on Christmas Day. Miami won its opener, beating host Hawaii, then lost by 19 points to Arizona and in overtime to Indiana State.
A release from the university said that Johnson’s injury was a left thumb fracture.
Johnson is a key figure in Miami’s inside game, averaging a double-double per game in points (12.6) and rebounds (10.1) along with 1.9 blocked shots.
He shot 42.6 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the free throw line in seven games. He missed the win over Jacksonville back in November because of a sore back.
With his 292 pounds on a 6-10 frame, Johnson also is a space-eater inside at the defensive end of the court, able to block shots and get defensive rebounds to ignite fast breaks for the Hurricanes. Perimeter defenders are able to take a few more chances knowing that Johnson’s presence inside can discourage potential drives around them to the basket by opponents.
His spot in the lineup likely will go to another senior, 6-10 Julian Gamble.
Gamble started all three of Miami’s games in Hawaii with mixed results.
He had a double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds) and blocked two shots in the win over the host team but had only three points, three rebounds and no blocks in the loss to Arizona.
He was back on against Indiana State with 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, but he played only 24 minutes before fouling out. Miami was winning 43-40 when he left the game with 4:27 left but couldn’t hold onto the advantage.
Even if Gamble can come close to matching Johnson’s numbers, Johnson’s loss affects Miami’s depth up front at a critical time.
Until their two losses on the islands, the Hurricanes had been building a nice résumé for the postseason in the early going with a victory over the Big Ten’s Michigan State, road wins at Massachusetts and UCF, and home wins over Detroit and Charlotte, which was unbeaten at the time of their meeting.
They are 8-3 with one more non-conference game remaining, at home against La Salle on Wednesday nigh. They then dive into Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Tonye Jekiri, a 7-foot freshman who is averaging 0.4 points and 0.9 rebounds in 6.7 minutes a game, and Raphael Akpejiori, a 6-10 junior who has played in only five games, become the biggest options off the bench.
Erik Swoope, a 6-6 junior who had 17 starts his first two years but has yet to start in his eight appearances this season, also may have to play a more significant role.