The Miami men’s basketball team has no plans of allowing the school’s recent athletic success to culminate with the football team’s national championship.
The Hurricanes are off to an explosive 16-2 start, earning national respect under second year head coach Perry Clark. Miami is ranked No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 24 in the AP Poll.
Miami matched last season’s win total on Tuesday night, with a 76-69 double overtime victory over Pittsburgh in the Hurricanes Big East home opener. The victory was a much needed quality win over the 15-3 Panthers.
John Salmons converted four free throws in the final 12 seconds and Darius Rice threw down a crowd-pleasing slam-dunk to seal the victory for Miami.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort in the second half because this was a night where not a lot went right for us early and we could have given up,” Clark said. “The guys never quit, always hanging tough with their defense until the offense got going in the second half.”
Salmons finished with a season-high 25 points. The 6-7 senior guard also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists, as Miami improved to 3-2 in Big East play.
“We had to pull this one out,” Salmons said. “We have to win at home in the Big East. You can’t let someone come down and beat you in your own place.”
The Hurricanes trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half, but came back to tie many times down the stretch. Miami did not take the lead until the second overtime.
The Hurricanes had a chance to win in the first overtime, but Marcus Barnes missed two free throws with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“When Marcus went to the line at the end of the first overtime I was sure the game was over,” said Clark. “Every game is a struggle in the Big East.”
Barnes made up for his two missed free throws by connecting on a three-pointer from the corner to extend Miami’s lead to 70-66 in the second overtime. Salmons and Rice then sealed the victory with their six points.
“Any win in the Big East is a good win for our team,” said Rice. “It is really important for us to win our league games at home because the Big East is so balanced.”
While overshadowed by the football team’s success, the Hurricane basketball team began the season with a school record 14-game winning streak.
The streak included a quality 58-53 win over nationally ranked Indiana at the Orange Bowl Classic.
Salmons came a rebound short of a triple double in another impressive victory over Charlotte – a NCAA tournament team a year ago.
The Hurricanes then started 2002 with a tough two-week stretch on the road to begin Big East play.
The Hurricanes began with a 79-71 win at No. 24 Georgetown, giving Miami its 14th straight victory. James Jones made three of Miami’s 10 three-pointers as the Hurricanes’ long distance shooting overcame a strong Georgetown rally.
The Hurricanes traveled next to Connecticut on Jan. 5, and witnesses Huskies big man Johnnie Selvie connect on two free throws with 5.7 seconds left to give UConn a 76-75 victory.
In the following game at St. John’s, Miami was held to one field goal over the final 16 minutes, as the Hurricanes lost their second straight game, 71-60. Miami shot just 10 percent (3-30) from the field in the second half.
“They whipped us,” Clark said. “They came out aggressive. [St. John’s] Mike Jarvis is a great game coach, and he had them ready to play. They whacked us, and we never whacked back.”
The Hurricanes rebounded from their poor performance with a 77-68 victory over Virginia Tech to end the grueling 13-day road trip.
“I don’t think there are many teams in the Big East that can go on the road for 13 days and play at Georgetown, at Connecticut, at St. John’s and at Virginia Tech and go home 2-2. And, we were one basket from going 3-1,” said Clark. “I’m proud of the effort the team gave on this trip.”
The Hurricanes surprising start can be attributed to a balanced scoring attack and strong team defense. These qualities are necessary if the Hurricanes want to be playing in March.
All five starters are averaging in double figures with Rice and Salmons tied for the team lead with 13.4 points per game. Salmons also leads the team in assists with 5.4 per contest, while Jones is the top rebounder with 6.6 per game.
The Hurricanes will need more production off their bench, as the starters have carried the load so far. Rafael Berumen leads all reserves with 3.4 points per game.
The Hurricanes continue Big East play tomorrow at 12 p.m. versus Providence at the Miami Arena.