Hurricanes still pushing strong as they face conference schedule

As this college basketball year commenced, the Miami Hurricanes had higher expectations than previous seasons, as evidenced by a No. 16 ranking in the Associated Press (AP) poll. Although the Hurricanes are now unranked, there is still plenty of hope and optimism for returning to the NCAA tournament, very possibly as a high seed.

One of the season’s shining moments was a dominant road victory at historic Rupp Arena against SEC contender Kentucky. To kick off the winter break, though, the Hurricanes started things off by falling, 91-72, to No. 9 and then-undefeated Clemson. The Hurricanes then went on a six-game winning streak, picking up wins at Boston College and staging an epic comeback against Maryland at the BankUnited Center.

The Hurricanes appeared headed for certain defeat, trailing Maryland 52-35 with 12 minutes to go, but the team continued to battle. A Jack McClinton 3-pointer with 1:31 left cut the deficit to one point. A later long range McClinton 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the game capped a Hurricane comeback and victory.

“That is the kind of win you find a way to grind out, win a ball game on your court,” head coach Frank Haith said.

Miami had to follow up their impressive win with a game against North Carolina, who was unexpectedly 1-2 in ACC play. Despite a strong first half, performance by the Hurricanes, North Carolina dominated Miami in the second half with the help of Wayne Ellington, who scored all of his 23 points in the second half, hitting seven 3-pointers and leading UNC to an 82-65 win.

True freshman DeQuan Jones made just the second start of his career against the Tar Heels. Jones’ electrifying dunk in the first half was named the top play of the night on ESPN’s Top 10. In two starts this season, Jones is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block per game, while shooting .438 from the field.

“He played well against North Carolina,” Haith said. “He’s a guy we have to get going, in terms of what he brings to the table.”

Miami rebounded from the loss against top rival Florida State last night, snapping a five-game losing streak against the Seminoles. Senior captain McClinton had a huge game, scoring 28 points, including 19 in the second half. Senior Lance Hurdle also had his biggest game of the season – 16 points – all but two in the second half.

McClinton is seventh in the ACC in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game, and forward Dwayne Collins is 12th in the conference in rebounding, averaging 7.6 per game. McClinton is also shooting a dazzling .456 from beyond the arc and is averaging close to three 3-pointers per game, both ACC bests.

In spite of the Hurricanes upperclassman presence and leadership, Coach Haith and the coaching staff have once again suspended sophomore guard Eddie Rios from the team.

“This is Eddie’s second suspension,” Haith said. “We need to move forward. Eddie is a nice young man. I like Eddie. But we have to follow rules.”

Haith stated he “doesn’t think” Rios will return to the team this year.

Still, the Hurricanes will look to remain focused after losing one of their key role players as they take on Virginia Tech Sunday evening.