Despite keeping the game close, Miami was unable to pull out a win Tuesday night. The Hurricanes dropped their fourth straight game, losing 92-85 against the No. 24-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies.
The ‘Canes (9-12, 2-5 ACC) have had trouble staying competitive during their previous three games, losing by an average of 20 points. Tuesday’s game seemed ready to follow a similar pattern, with Virginia Tech (15-5, 5-1 ACC) connecting on six 3-pointers in the first half, allowing them to take a 42-29 halftime lead.
However, the Hurricanes battled back in the second half, led by Denis Clemente, who finished with a career-high 24 points. With 3:40 left on the game clock, a goaltending call against Virginia Tech brought Miami within four points of the lead for the first time since the score was 6-2. However, the deficit was never cut lower than four, as Virginia Tech forward Deron Washington completed two consecutive 3-point plays to put the game out of reach.
Virginia Tech was led by guard Zabian Dowdell, who had a career-high 30 points. Washington finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Miami was led in scoring by Clemente, who shot 8-of-17 from the field, with a career-high four 3-pointers. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, he was banged up during the final five minutes of the second half, so he was forced to spend the remainder of the game on the bench, when the team could have used him the most.
“Denis was outstanding,” Head Coach Frank Haith said. “He played hard. He was aggressive. He played with the spunk he needed to play with.”
Over the past four losses, a few striking weaknesses have become apparent in the play of the Hurricanes.
The most glaring weakness is the injuries of Anthony King, Jimmy Graham, Fabio Nass, and Adrian Thomas, who are all post players. Three of the players – King, Nass, and Thomas – are out for the rest of the season. This has left Miami with very few post options and a small interior defensively. Coach Haith used a 3-guard starting lineup on Tuesday to help counter that problem.
“I thought that those guys were playing our best,” said Haith in reference to Tuesday’s lineup of McClinton, Clemente, Anthony Harris, Brian Asbury and Dwayne Collins. “We’re trying to figure out the right combinations to give ourselves the best chance to win and be competitive.”
The second weakness has been the Hurricanes’ defense. Over the past four losses, opponents have been averaging 86.3 points per game. A big problem has been Miami’s 3-point defense, which allowed the Hokies to shoot 8-of-16 from behind the 3-point arc.
“It has been disappointing that people have shot the ball so well against us on the perimeter,” Haith said. “It’s an area we’re struggling in right now. Playing D, you’ve got to be tough, and there’s some toughness things that we’ve got to get better at.”
One positive for the Hurricanes was the play of guard Jack McClinton, who seemed to have recovered from his current slump. McClinton, who had been averaging seven points per game over the previous three losses, finished with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting.
“It feels good, but I’d much rather win that game,” McClinton said. “I just want to go out there and do whatever I can to get this team victories.”
Miami will get a second shot against Virginia Tech on Feb. 24 in Blacksburg, Va. The Hurricanes have a week off until their next game, which will be on the road against No. 4 North Carolina, on Jan. 31.
Despite Miami’s record and injuries, the players remain confident and have not given up on the season.
“We got nine more games left in the season,” McClinton said. “Once you start giving in, that’s lack of confidence and you’re definitely going to lose. We’ve got to go out every night expecting to win.”
Joel Brown may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.