Desperate Miami brings fading tournament hopes into matchup with Clemson

Third-year guard Matthew Cleveland shoots a jump shot during Miami's game against North Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Watsco Center. Photo credit: Cecelia Runner

Last season, Miami lost just five games in ACC play all season long; they earned themselves an ACC regular season co-championship banner, marched to the Final Four, and hung another banner. Flash forward to now, and the Hurricanes have dropped seven in-conference matches this season and hold a losing record against ACC opponents.

On Saturday, Miami’s frustrating season continued as they came up just short of a colossal upset over No. 3 North Carolina, losing by just three in a close battle with the Tar Heels. However, close will not cut it at this point for the ‘Canes, as a miracle run to close the season is their only hope of an NCAA tournament bid. The bid would have to be earned by winning the ACC tournament.

Still, despite the loss to UNC, some encouraging signs were shown by UM as guard Nijel Pack and forward Norchad Omier dropped 20 points each while the Hurricanes nearly rallied for a comeback win against one of the best teams in the nation.

“It shows we can play with any good team in the country,” Pack said, “It gives confidence within ourselves to go out and play hard for the rest of the season and give ourselves a chance.”

Miami will need more of that from Pack, Omier, and the rest of its key players in Wednesday night’s tilt against the Clemson Tigers. The ‘Canes won convincingly over Clemson in January when the Tigers were ranked 16th in the nation.

The victory showcased how great Miami can be when everything is clicking as it knocked down 11 threes, had 19 assists, and all starters scored in double figures.

Miami’s 95 points in that game is still the highest point total it has scored in ACC play this season, proving that the Hurricanes play best when moving the ball and balancing the scoring out between many players.

However, too many times this season, Miami’s offensive inconsistencies have reared their ugly head. The offense grinds to a halt for multiple stretches, and poor decision-making forces players to try to bail out the ‘Canes with contested shots, which can only take them so far.

If the Hurricanes hope to pick up a crucial road win and sweep the season series against Clemson, they must focus on ball movement and decision-making, leading to easy shots that can get the offense rolling.

On the defensive end, UM must focus on Tiger’s star center, P.J. Hall, who is averaging 19.9 points per game on nearly 50% shooting. In the first contest between these two teams, Miami made Hall uncomfortable by holding him to 17 points and forcing four turnovers off him.

If the ‘Canes can limit Hall’s effectiveness once again and force someone else to beat them, they have a good chance of walking out of Clemson with an inspiring win.

At this point of the season, with conference tournaments looming, every game is vital, especially for a team with dimming tournament chances like Miami. The Hurricanes will need to play like a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball for the rest of the season if they aim to make a run in the ACC tournament, and a road victory over a formidable conference foe is a fantastic way to start.

Tipoff at Littlejohn Coliseum is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and the game will be aired on ESPN2.