Miami Herald

Canes, clinging to hopes for the NCAA Tournament, face big game at Clemson

- BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN mkaufman@miamiheral­ Michelle Kaufman: 305-376-3438, @kaufsports

The assumption coming off the Miami Hurricanes’ historic Final Four run last spring was that the team would, at the very least, be back in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Yes, the team lost Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, but the returning players and the addition of FSU transfer Matt Cleveland gave fans reason for optimism. The Hurricanes began the season ranked No. 13 in the AP poll and rose to as high as No. 8 after a 5-0 start.

By mid-December, Miami had dropped out of the Top 25 after lopsided losses to Kentucky and Colorado. Now, after a string of injuries, the Canes head into a game at Clemson on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN2) clinging to postseason hopes.

UM is 15-9 and in 10th place in the ACC standings at 6-7 with seven games remaining, including a home game against No. 9 Duke next week, a road game against No. 3 North Carolina, and the season finale at Florida State.

The Hurricanes have lost three of their past four games.

They almost pulled off an upset of the Tar Heels on Saturday in Coral Gables but fell three points short.

“We played well enough to win the other day, but we didn’t win, and that’s unfortunat­e,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said.

Guard Nijel Pack, who scored 18 first-half points against North Carolina, felt knee discomfort in the second half and scored just two points in that half.

Larrañaga said Pack’s status and that of Kyshawn George (ankle) are “day to day” for the Clemson game.

Pack led UM with 25 points in a 95-82 win over Clemson on Jan. 3. Norchad Omier and Cleveland each scored 23 points in that game, and the Canes scored 60 points in the second half.

“Maybe as bad a defensive half as I’ve had as a coach,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said that night.

The Tigers (16-7, 6-6 ACC) have turned things around since then. Over the past month, they have beaten FSU, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse. Their losses to Virginia and Duke were each by one point. Miami, meanwhile, lost to FSU, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse, and was routed 60-38 by Virginia.

“They’re having a heckuva season, but we had a heckuva game with them early in January,” Larrañaga said of the Tigers.

“They’ve continued to play well. They’re on a roll right now. Obviously, playing at home is a tremendous advantage for them. They get a great turnout. They’ve got great, great fan support. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Larrañaga said the Hurricanes’ struggles are partly due to injury but are also due to poor shot selection.

“We’re taking way too many shots off the bounce and not enough catch-and-shoot,” he said. “We’re a much better shooting team than what we’ve shot in conference


“Guys are taking quick shots off the bounce. We dribble the ball too much. I’ve said it all season long. We’re very, very comfortabl­e in shooting the ball off the bounce, but we are a much better team shooting the ball off the catch.”

The coach also would like to get Cleveland more involved in the offense. Larrañaga met with him Monday to discuss how to do that. After averaging 20-plus points

in early January, Cleveland has averaged 7.3 points over the past six games, including three two-point games.

“He’s had a very good year as a whole, but the last several games, he’s kind of been left out of the offense, and we need him desperatel­y to be a double-figure scorer, be in that 15-point category on a nightly basis,” Larrañaga said.

On the defensive end, UM will have to contain Joseph Girard III, the

Tigers’ transfer guard from Syracuse. Over the past three games, Girard is shooting 56.7 percent from the floor and 62 percent from 3-point range. He leads the ACC and ranks fourth nationally in free-throw percentage at 93.4 percent. Last week, Girard scored 21 points against North Carolina and 18 against Syracuse.

 ?? AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ ?? Nijel Pack, driving to the basket Saturday against North Carolina’s RJ Davis, felt knee pain in the second half. Pack and Kyshawn George (ankle) are not certain to play against Clemson.
AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiheral­ Nijel Pack, driving to the basket Saturday against North Carolina’s RJ Davis, felt knee pain in the second half. Pack and Kyshawn George (ankle) are not certain to play against Clemson.

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