The No.17 Miami men’s basketball team continued their downward spiral, losing ita second consecutive game, as they fell to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 90-77 Saturday night at the Miami Arena.
After starting the season 14-0, the Hurricanes (21-6,8-6) are 3-3 in their last six games. The loss to Notre Dame (19-8, 9-5) dropped the Hurricanes to 8-6 in conference play and a tie for second place with St. John’s in the Eastern division of the Big East.
“When we were doing well, we knew that things were going to get tougher for us down the road and they have gotten a little tough for us,” said coach Perry Clark.
The loss will probably prove more pivotal in its psychological effect. With only weeks left before the Big East and the NCAA tournaments, it might be an enormous sap of momentum and confidence for the team.
A first-round bye in the Big East tournament is still possible for the Hurricanes, if they win their last two games.
“What you try to do is give yourself a working margin. We still have a lot of basketball left to play. What we have to do right know is pick ourselves up and go from here,” said coach Clark.
The Fighting Irish started the game by quickly showcasing their potent offense led by freshman standout Chris Thomas. Indiana’s Mr. Basketball last year, Thomas made two three-pointers in the first three minutes to give the Irish an early lead. The Irish built on this lead with transition points and fast-break opportunities that kept the Hurricane defense disorganized and unable to execute.
The Hurricane offense, however. appeared stagnant, settling for jumpshots and three-pointers. The Hurricanes shot just under 39 percent in the first half, while the Irish shot 48 percent.
Rafael Berumen provided a much-needed spark for the Hurricanes off the bench. The 6-9 center, made a nice feed to James Jones under the basket, had a steal, and a basket in the span of a minute to help Miami erase the early Irish lead. Berumen finished the game 3-3 from the field, with six points and two blocked shots in 16 minutes of play.
James Jones also kept the Irish from pulling away, scoring 12 of his 21 points in the first half on 5-of-10 shooting.
The Irish led after the first half 39-34.
The Hurricanes came out the locker room with a very high tempo. Darius Rice scored a pair of quick three pointers to put Miami up 40-39. Rice, who had just three points in the first half, finished the game with 23 points and was 6-9 from behind the arc in the second half.
His instrumental role in the Hurricanes comeback proved futile as the Irish continued to take advantage of a porous Miami defense that allowed several easy lay-ups and uncontested three-point shots.
“Shooters just shoot and they are bound to fall. But they (Irish) kept hitting one every time I hit one, so we really did not gain any ground,” said Rice.
The Irish shot a blazing 67 percent from behind the arc in the second half and were 16-32 from the field. Chris Thomas scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the second half and dished out a dozen assists for the game. The Irish also controlled the boards, outrebounding the Hurricanes 44-31.
“We wanted to take away their transition, so we took some people off the glass,” said coach Clark.
The Hurricanes play at Providence tonight and rap up the Big East schedule on Saturday at the Miami Arena against Virginia Tech. Miami defeated both teams earlier this year.
“The last two games are very important because we need to find our swagger back,” said James Jones.