Even without injured center Reggie Johnson, the Hurricanes (10-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) had size to spare while outscoring the Yellow Jackets 28-16 in the paint and outrebounding the home team 40-29. Georgia Tech (10-3, 0-1) suffered its first loss in nine games in its new arena.
Senior forward Kenny Kadji had 11 points and a season-high 14 rebounds for Miami, yet Brown stole the show.
It was a homecoming of a sort. Brown was raised in Hinesville, near Savannah, and his father, Tico Brown, was a prolific scorer for Georgia Tech from 1976-79.
Dad picked a great game to see his son play in person. Rion made 9 of 11 shots, including all five of his shots in the first half as the Hurricanes built a 10-point intermission lead. He hit 4 of 6 3-pointers after going five straight games without making one in 13 tries.
“It was a great feeling seeing my dad’s jersey ... before we came to shootaround,” Brown said. “It really made me just want to have a great game for him.”
Moments after coming off the bench, Brown hit his first shot — a 3-pointer — to tie the game at 5-all, and then made every additional shot he took in the first half.
Georgia Tech’s starting big men, junior center Daniel Miller and freshman forward Robert Carter Jr., left the game with foul trouble with 8:22 and 6:36 remaining in the first half, respectively. The game was tied 17-17 when Carter departed, and the Hurricanes closed the half on a 16-6 run.
Moments after Carter checked out, Brown’s jumper with 5:49 left in the half gave Miami the lead for good at 19-17. From there, the Hurricanes got three layups, a Brown tip-in, and 3-pointers by Trey McKinney Jones and Shane Larkin to lead 33-23 at halftime.
Miami rarely had trouble getting close to the basket.
Johnson will remain out for a few more weeks with a broken left thumb, yet the Hurricanes were plenty big without their 6-foot-10, 292-pound center. They started forwards Kadji (6-11) and Julian Gamble (6-10), and brought Raphael Akpejiori (6-10) and Tonye Jekiri (7-0) off the bench.
Gamble had seven points and seven rebounds, and he, Kadji and Jekiri combined to block five shots.
“They’re big. They hurt us inside, they hurt us on the glass,” said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory. “I thought the last 5 minutes of the first half was a big point in the game. When we had both Robert and Daniel on the bench. ... That really hurt us.”
Senior point guard Mfon Udofia and reserve forward Kammeon Holsey led the Yellow Jackets with 10 points each, but Georgia Tech made just 17 of 52 shots (32.7 percent).
Carter finished with seven points and Miller with six. Small forward Marcus Georges-Hunt scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The Yellow Jackets cut the deficit to eight points twice in the second half, the last time coming on Carter’s layup with 13:34 to go. That pulled Georgia Tech within 40-32.
Brown countered with a 3-pointer on Miami’s next possession, and the Yellow Jackets never were within single digits again.
“I got here (early) ... got a lot of practice shots up, a couple hundred, actually,” Brown said. “And I shot really well before the game. I had a lot of confidence.”
The Hurricanes pushed the lead to 23 points twice in the second half.
The Yellow Jackets then went into scramble mode on defense and scored the final 10 points of the game with a run that included two layups off steals and a dunk.
That was far too little, too late.
“It was kind of the right matchup for us in terms of big guys,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We’re better at defending big guys than we are smaller, quicker players.”