The Miami men’s basketball team’s first round loss to Missouri in the NCAA tournament was clearly a disappointment, but it doesn’t overshadow the Hurricane’s success this past season.
The ‘Canes finished the season with a school-record 24 victories with 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 John Salmons, one of the team’s two starting seniors. “I am happy to be a part of a team that accomplished so much this season.”
Miami’s early season success raised expectations for a team that was not supposed to play as well as it did. Fans hoped for a better ending.
“If people can’t be happy with 24 wins, they can’t be happy with 28,” head coach Perry Clark said. “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.”
Miami was ranked in the top 25 for 12 straight weeks, peeking at No. 12 on Feb. 4. Quality Hurricane victories included Charlotte, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and St. John’s – all NCAA 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,” sophomore Darius Rice said. “One loss will not take that away.”
The Hurricanes lost to Pittsburgh in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and earned a No. 5 seed out West in the NCAA tournament.
The Hurricanes ran into a hungry Missouri team (No. 12 seed), which was ranked in the preseason top 10, but fell during a somewhat disappointing season.
In the 93-80 defeat, the Hurricanes couldn’t overcome the Tigers’ 12-0 run to begin the game and suffered with a 33.8 percent shooting afternoon.
“The loss hurt us a lot because we know that this team had the talent to go further in the tournament,” Salmons said. “However, it wasn’t meant to be. Everything happens for a reason.”
The loss clearly hurt more for the three seniors – starters John Salmons and Elton Tyler, and reserve forward and bench motivator Jerry Schlie. All three graduated in May.
Miami must find a front court presence to replace Tyler and more importantly a point guard and leader to replace Salmons.
“John was a great leader both on and off the court,” Rice said. “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. Last season, he averaged 13.1 points, six assists, and six rebounds per game. Salmons became the 14th Hurricane in school history to be selected in the NBA Draft when the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the 26th pick.
Salmons, who was later traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, is the first Hurricane to be drafted since Tim James in 1999.
“I will really miss the University of Miami,” Salmons said. “I matured into a man, became a better basketball player, and received a great education in my four years here.”
The goal for Miami this season will be a return trip to the NCAA tournament with possibly a longer stay. The Hurricanes will have the likes of three returning starters (Rice, James Jones, and Marcus Barnes) and some new faces.
Rice, a 6-10 junior 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,” Rice said. “Individually, I am going to get stronger and work on my ball handling.”
Jones, a 6-8 senior, was a consistent player who averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. Jones, a co-caption last season with Salmons and Tyler, will take over as the vocal leader.
Barnes, a junior who can play both guard positions, 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. Barnes has the potential to be an explosive scorer this season if he can be consistent.
Returning sixth man Michael Simmons will compete for a starting role at point guard with returning reserve Kahleaf Watson and a group of highly touted freshman recruits. Clark signed Armondo Surratt (5-11, 165), a point guard who averaged 18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and five steals per game last season at Oakland Technical High School.
“Armondo gives us a pure point guard that can run our team and get our players open shots,” Clark said. “We are very excited about having him join our program.”
Fellow recruits Robert Hite, a 6-2, 185-pound guard from Winton Woods HS in Cincinnati, OH, and Eric Wilkins, a 6-3, 185-pound guard from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia will also compete at the point.
“We need a person who will establish himself as a leader at the point,” Clark said.
Miami will also have to fill the void left at center. Reserves Rafael Berumen and Rodrigue Djahue played well off the bench last season and both will vie for the starting job. Clark hopes to find an additional post player to complement the strong recruiting class.
“We need to find a couple post players and choose a starting point guard for the upcoming season,” Rice said. “But with the nucleus we return, we should make some noise.”