Canes move one step closer to NCAA Tournament

The Canes got one step closer to a NCAA tournament berth on Saturday with a win over the Virginia Cavaliers. The win gave Miami their 20th victory of the season, which is only the 10th time in school history that Miami has reached that total.

The Canes are now 7-7 in conference play and would basically lock up a tournament bid with a victory in one of their last two games. Virginia falls to 3-10 in the ACC and 13-13 overall.

"I would like to say we are in, but you just do not know," said Hurricanes coach Frank Haith. "Our resume is really good. This is only the 10th time in this school's history that we have been able to win 20 games. When you look at our strength of schedule, our RPI, and our games vs. top 100 teams, I do not think you could find anything that hurts our tournament bid."

Sean Singletary was sensational for Virginia as he scored a career high 41 points and also grabbed 9 rebounds. The senior continued his fantastic season today and showed why he is a legitimate NBA prospect. For Miami, Jack McClinton almost matched Singletary as he also set a career high with 34 points. Jimmy Graham also set a career high in points as he had 19 points in 20 minutes of action.

"Singletary is a great player and when he is a run like he was today, he is basically unguardable," said Haith. "He showed today why he is one of the better players in the conference."

The game was delayed 32 minutes because of an equipment malfunction (rim). The Virginia players noticed that the rim was slanted towards the front and the start was delayed as employees fixed the problem. The game commenced without the usual singing of the national anthem and player introductions because of the delay.

"It had the same effect on both teams," said Virginia coach Dave Leitao. "If it negatively affected us then it had the same effect on them. I do not worry about things I can not control."

Once the game got started, the teams played a competitive first half that ended with Virginia taking a 39-35 lead into the half. Jamil Tucker led the Cavaliers with 13 of his career high 14 points in the first half. The Canes were led by 10 points from junior power forward Jimmy Graham. The first half had 6 lead changes and the score was tied 4 times.

The second half was a battle of star guards. Jack McClinton had 26 second half points, while Singletary poured in 31. Virginia led 45-44 with 15 minutes and 28 seconds remaining in the game and that is when Jack McClinton caught fire. The Miami shooting guard scored 22 of the Canes next 26 points to give Miami a 70-57 lead. Jimmy Graham capped the run with a thunderous slam dunk to extend the lead to 15.

"I knew it was going to be a battle," said McClinton. "We talked some trash before the game on the phone. He is a great player. We knew it was going to be a battle between two great teams and we came up with the victory."

The Canes were up 15 with 10 minutes remaining and then a familiar sight reappeared. Miami was once again desperately clinging to a lead vs. an ACC opponent. Sean Singletary scored 18 points in the final ten minutes and Miami found themselves up 1 with the ball and only 39 seconds remaining. Jack McClinton held the ball at the top of the key, until he drove to the lane and kicked it out to a wide open Lance Hurdle in the corner. Hurdle buried the three pointer to make the score 94-90.

"It was a broken play," said Haith. "We set a high ball screen for Jack and just had him go make a play. He talked at halftime about trusting your teammates and we did that. Jack made a great pass and Lance knocked down a big shot."

Singletary scored a lay-up and Virginia immediately fouled McClinton. He would hit one of his free throws to give Miami a 95-92 lead with 3 seconds left. Miami intentionally fouled Singletary with .9 seconds remaining to prevent him from attempting a game tying three pointer. He hit the first free throws and missed the second intentionally, but the ball was tipped and the game was over. The Canes had survived a late Virginia run to win 95-93.

"It was a great ball game," said Haith. "It was a great win for us. I thought out guys found a way with all the adversity and distractions to find a way to win. We came out in the second half with some pop offensively."

The story of the game for Miami was the play of junior shooting guard Jack McClinton. He was sensational, as he scored 34 points on 11 or 18 shooting. McClinton was 7-12 from 3 point range and had 3 assists. He has had an excellent ACC season and will easly make an ALL-ACC team.

"I was always confident," said McClinton. "In the first half, I missed some shots I usually make. The coaches told me to stay confident and telling me it was going to fall. Once I hit that first shot and then another, I started feeling it. My team set great screens for me and I keep hitting shots."

Eddie Rios was once again solid for the Hurricanes. The freshman point guard has really come on of late and was a big part in Miami's win as he had 8 points and 8 assists. Lance Hurdle added 10 points and 3 assists. Dwayne Collins was limited by foul trouble and finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Senior Anthony King had 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

"Eddie Rios was outstanding especially when Lance got in foul trouble," said Haith. "His 8 assists were big and made some big plays."

Another positive was the fact that Miami was able to score 95 points on a night that James Dews, Raymond Hicks, and Brian Asbury were not big factors offensively. Dews has 9 points and Asbury had 3 points. Senior Raymond Hicks was held without a point in his 10 minutes of action. The Canes shot 54.1% for the game and went 11 of 23 from 3 point land.

Miami will face Boston College on Wednesday at the Bank United Center. The Eagles are led by junior point guard Tyrese Rice, who had 38 points in the first half tonight vs North Carolina. Rice has been a nightmare for the Hurricanes throughout his career and Miami will have to overcome their struggles versus Rice and Boston College if they hope to get one step closer to their first winning ACC season.

"I was just getting a lot of good dishes from my teammates and was taking it to the rim," said Graham. "It was a good confidence booster and now I just want to take it into the next game. We have BC on Wednesday and that is all we are worried about."

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