For now, the Hurricanes seem like they are back on track.
Miami steamrolled Virginia Tech 85-65 Tuesday night at the Convocation Center, boosting its record back up to the .500 mark. The ‘Canes (10-10, 3-6 in the Big East) also positioned themselves into a three-way tie with the Hokies and Providence for fifth place in the East Division of the conference. Junior forward Darius Rice led the ‘Canes with 32 points and liked what he saw from both the team and himself.
“I just took what the defense gave me,” Rice said. “Tonight guys stepped up, hit their shots, and gained confidence. That’s all you need.”
The Miami starting lineup looked a little different than usual as head coach Perry Clark inserted two new starters, freshmen Eric Wilkins and Gary Hamilton. Clark was pleased with both players’ effort, especially Wilkins, who scored 13 points.
“I thought both guys gave us a lot of energy,” Clark said. “Eric played loose, aggressively, and with really good poise.”
Four other Hurricanes reached double-digit totals in scoring, as senior James Jones had 16 points and freshman Robert Hite added 11. The ‘Canes also shot 42.4 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line in the first half, and went into the locker room with a four-point lead.
In the second half, Miami racked up 48 points, shooting 63 percent from the field, and converting on nearly 89 percent from the line. The ‘Canes biggest lead of the night came with five minutes left when Rice hit a three-pointer, widening the gap to 24. From there, Clark’s team never looked back.
“Certainly it was a much needed victory,” Clark said. “I was tremendously pleased with the way we responded. It was probably one of our best defensive effort.”
“We had come to a crossroad where we had to step up, and I thought we did that tonight.”
Wilkins was surprised to learn that he was starting, but he felt the decision boosted his game.
“I felt more relaxed,” Wilkins said. “I felt like I was able to control the game, on the defensive end control my man, and create opportunities for [Rice] and [Jones].”
Coming off an overtime loss to Villanova at home Saturday, the ‘Canes knew they had to get themselves together. Clark contends that his coaching staff was able to get the players to regain their confidence.
“I think the staff did a really good job from the Villanova game getting their confidence back and getting them prepared and by the same token motivating them,” Clark said. “I think they understand finally what time of the year it is and what’s ahead of us, that we still have tremendous opportunities.”
The ‘Canes play at Boston College tomorrow afternoon. Miami needs to hold one of the first six spots of the conference’s East Division in order to qualify for the tournament.
“We need to take these next two road games, that’s our next goal,” Rice said. “We’re not jumping around and celebrating. We’ve got a mission to accomplish and that’s what we’re going after right now.”
-Melissa Teich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org