The Miami men’s basketball first round loss to Missouri in the NCAA tournament was clearly a disappointment, but it should not by any means overshadow the great success that the Hurricanes accomplished this season.
Miami finished the season with a school-record 24 victories and only eight defeats. The 23 regular season wins was the most by the Hurricanes since joining the Big East Conference in 1991. Miami also tied a school-record when they began the season with 14 consecutive wins.
“We can’t let one game take away all we have done this season,” said senior John Salmons. “I am happy to be a part of a team that accomplished so much this season.”
The early success of the Hurricanes raised expectations for a team who was not supposed to play as well as they did. Fans wanted a better ending.
“If people can’t be happy with 24 wins, they can’t be happy with 28. I feel saddest for the three seniors, but I know how hurt everyone was in that locker room. Players were crying because they cared. They cared an awful lot,” head coach Perry Clarke told The Miami Herald.
Miami was ranked in the top 25 for 12 straight weeks, peeking at No. 12 on Feb. 4. Quality Hurricane victories include Charlotte, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and St. Johns, all NCCA tournament teams. The Hurricanes also set the Big East regular season record for team free-throw percentage (81.8).
“We accomplished a great deal this season,” said sophomore Darius Rice. “One loss will not take that away.”
The Hurricanes lost in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament against Pittsburgh and earned a No. five seed out west in the NCAA tournament.
The Hurricanes ran into a hungry Missouri team (No. 12 seed), who was ranked in the preseason top ten, but dropped out of the rankings during a somewhat disappointing season.
The Hurricanes were not able to recover from the Tigers’ 12-0 run that started the contest. Miami shot a dismal 33.8 percent in the 93-80 defeat.
“The loss hurt us a lot because we know that this team had the talent to go further in the tournament,” said Salmons. “However, it wasn’t meant to be. Everything happens for a reason.”
The loss clearly hurts more for the three seniors — starters John Salmons and Elton Tyler, and reserve forward and bench motivator Jerry Schlie. Miami must find a center to replace Tyler and more importantly a point guard and leader to replace John Salmons.
“John was a great leader both on and off the court,” said Rice. “I definitely look up to him as a role model. His presence will surely be missed.”
Salmons started 107 consecutive games for the Hurricanes, playing every position but center. This season, Salmons averaged 13.1 points, six assists, and six rebounds per game. Salmons is now working on his game in hopes of being drafted by an NBA team this summer.
“I will really miss the University of Miami,” said Salmons. “I matured into a man, became a better basketball player, and received a great education in my four years here.”
Salmons said he learned how to become a man of good character under Leonard Hamilton in his first two seasons at Miami. Under Coach Clarke, Salmons said he developed into an assertive leader on and off the court.
The goal for Miami next season will be to return to the NCAA tournament and go further with the likes of three returning starters (Rice, James Jones, and Marcus Barnes) and some new faces.
Rice, a 6-10 sophomore forward, led the team in scoring (14.9), and averaged six rebounds per game. He was named second team All-Big East.
“I am really excited to improve next year,” said Rice. “Individually, I am going to get stronger and work on my ball handling.”
Jones, a 6-8 junior, was a consistent player who averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. Jones, a co-caption this season with Salmons and Tyler, will take over as the leader next season.
“I wish I had a dozen like James,” Clarke told The Miami Herald.
Barnes improved as the season progressed. He scored a career high 27 points in the quarterfinal win against Georgetown in the Big East tournament and had 20 the next night in the loss to Pittsburgh.
Returning sixth man, Michael Simmons will compete for a starting role at point guard with returning reserve Kahleaf Watson, and highly praised freshman guards Robert Hite and Eric Wilkins.
“We need a person who will establish himself as a leader at the point,” Clarke told The Miami Herald.
Miami will also have to fill the void left at center. Reserves Rafael Berumen and Rodrigue Djahue played well off the bench but neither seem to be the answer as the starter next year. Clarke hopes to find a center, as he is not yet finished recruiting.
“We need to find a couple post players and choose a starting point guard for next season,” said Rice. “But with the nucleus we return, we should make some noise.”