After a disappointing loss to Syracuse on Sunday, the University of Miami men’s basketball team desperately needed a win to stay in the hunt for the Big East title.
Thanks to the timely scoring of Darius Rice and the rebounding and defense of freshman Gary Hamilton, the ‘Canes escaped the Convocation Center with a 60-57 win over Providence College Wednesday night. Rice led all scorers with 26 points, including 21 in the second half, and iced the game with 9.9 seconds to go by hitting two free throws.
Romuald Augustin led the Friars with 15 points, and Ryan Gomes contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds in the loss.
Meanwhile, Hamilton made his presence felt through hard-nosed defense against the Providence big men, pulling down 12 rebounds.
“Gary played huge for us today, especially for a freshman,” coach Perry Clark said. “He gave us key rebounds and handled their big men very well.”
Hamilton had some incentive to have a big game against the Friars, as the 6’10” center was ready to commit to Providence last year before a fallout occurred between himself and the school.
“I was almost committed there but they ended up backing down,” Hamilton said. “I was motivated to have a big game against them.”
The first half of the game seemed like a horror show for both Miami and Providence. The two teams combined for 21 turnovers (UM 10, PC 11), and each squad had trouble shooting from the field, as the ‘Canes shot 33 percent and the Friars shot 35 percent.
“I think we worked them too hard the past couple of days and they came out sluggish because of it,” Clark said. “We didn’t expect their zone defense early on, and we weren’t sharp at all.”
The second half opened with better shooting and fewer turnovers by both squads. The ‘Canes tied the score for the first time (39-39) on a Robert Hite dunk with 13:05 left in the game.
Miami then captured the lead (47-46) when Rice broke out of his first half slump, hitting three-pointers on consecutive possessions. The junior was able to overcome his slow start and improve his shot selection in the second half.
“Early on I wasn’t getting too many touches,” Rice said. “I was more active in the second half and my teammates were setting better screens for me.”
An Eric Wilkins steal and dunk with 1:35 left gave the ‘Canes a 57-55 lead. Following an Armondo Surratt turnover, James Jones came up with a clutch steal, leading to a Surratt free throw to make it a 58-55 game with 37 seconds left.
After Gomes converted on a lay-up, the Friars were back within one point (58-57) with 13.5 seconds left. But Rice came through with the two free throws, making the score 60-57 in UM’s favor. A Donnie McGrath 3-point heave at the buzzer came up short, and the Hurricanes escaped with the win.
“This was a victory we needed,” Clark said. “With the way we have improved defensively, I would give us a chance against anyone in the league. But we all know how tough the Big East is. No one in this league is an easy out.”
-You can reach Eric Kalis at email@example.com.