Saturday, March 13, 1999

Big man Big Easy for Miami front line

Ensminger, Estick huge

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW ORLEANS — Mike Ensminger let loose a rebel yell in the direction of Miami's crowd, then high-fived radio announcers Joe Barry and Jim Freeman. Never before had going scoreless felt so good.

        “I was just looking for everybody, trying to thank the fans,” said Ensminger, Miami's sophomore forward from Oak Hills High. “I just wanted to thank everyone for their support.”

        Besides Wally Szczerbiak, Miami owed its greatest thanks Friday to Ensminger and John Estick. The unsung, undersized forwards neutralized Washington's giant center — 7-foot, 280-pound senior Todd MacCulloch — keying Miami's 59-58 upset in the Superdome.

        After the game, Utah coach Rick Majerus lauded both of Miami's big men, adding, “My favorite player in the tournament is this big, bald kid (Ensminger). He set screens, gets rebounds. He's the ultimate role player.”

        The Big E's — Estick and Ensminger — ruled the Big Easy, holding MacCulloch without a field goal the last 31:17 of the game. Miami chose to play straight man-to-man, and though Szczerbiak and Refiloe Lethunya also provided defensive help, the Estick-Ensminger platoon went solo against MacCulloch nearly the whole game.

        “We shut the big guy down,” said Estick, a 6-6 senior. “We can guard against anybody. It's hard (for MacCulloch) to play against two guys with desire and fire like we have.”

        MacCulloch was Washington's scoring leader (19.0 ppg), and he has led the nation in field-goal percentage three straight seasons. But after scoring nine points in less than nine minutes on 4-of-4 shooting, all short bank shots off of lob passes, he was powerless.

        He attempted only two more shots the rest of the game, missing both, and his only other points came on two second-half free throws. He finished with 11 points.

        “They're a very strong team,” Washington coach Bob Bender said of Miami. “Their big guys aren't 6-10, but they're 6-6 and physical.”

        Said MacCulloch: “They tried to keep me outside of where I like to catch the ball. And they didn't sacrifice guard ing anybody else to do so. They just played great, complete defense.”

        Estick totaled four points and three rebounds in 24 minutes, and Ensminger grabbed five rebounds in 16 minutes.

        Both said they never before faced anyone so large. Ensminger said playing one-on-one against older brother Chris — a 6-foot-11, 275-pounder who played at Valparaiso — served as good practice.

        “He was really soft,” Estick said of MacCulloch. “He wasn't a fighter. Honestly, he's too much of a nice guy at 7-foot, 280. If he knew how to use that body, he'd be unstoppable.

        “But once we adjusted to him, he stopped bulling inside and just tried to post up. And they stopped going to him completely.”


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