Growing pains

It hasn't been quite the road trip that University Miami men's basketball coach Perry Clark had in mind considering the season's first journey into the Big East Conference for the Hurricanes has netted two consecutive defeats.

"We need to learn how to finish better," says Clark, whose team is in the middle of a three-game road swing to start their conference schedule. "But we have a lot of players that haven't been through this before. It's a matter of getting through that first experience- especially when you're playing Big East basketball."

The learning process – for five freshmen players- will turn up in East Rutherford, New Jersey Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Continental Airlines Arena as the Hurricanes (7-6) take the court against the Seton Hall Pirates. Miami is winless in the Big East after opening the season with seven victories in 11 games, including an overtime thriller against North Carolina in the Convocation Center earlier this month.

The Hurricanes are coming off an 83-80 overtime defeat to nationally ranked Connecticut in which no player other than leading-scorers Darius Rice (28) and James Jones (career-high 26) finished with double-figure points. Starting shooting guard Paulo Coelho had nine points, including a three-pointer with 8.3 remaining in overtime, while freshman Armondo Surratt added seven. Before facing Connecticut, the Hurricanes fell short to West Virginia in their conference.

Before the start of the season several of the questions facing the Hurricanes were what players- other than Rice and Jones- would be able to get the ball in the basket in addition to how the team would fare in the rebounding department. So far the results have been mixed.

A common theme in both conference defeats and much of the regular season has been the lack of offensive production from the Hurricanes besides Rice and Jones. Aside from Rice and Jones, UM has received just 14 double-digit performances by the rest of the squad this season. And six of those came from freshman Robert Hite who scored a season-high 13 points against New Hampshire, Texas A&M and Savannah State. No player has scored more, putting added pressure on the veteran Rice and Jones to provide the blunt of the offense.

Of the five freshmen player Surratt, Hite and quick guard Eric Wilkins all showed an ability to score consistenly earlier in the year although most of those points came against New Hampshire, Savannah State and Texas A&M. But life in the Big East has been a different story so far with the freshmen combining for 30 points against Connecticut and West Virginia.

Miami has managed to outlast six of their first 13 opponents on the boards and is averaging 39.8 rebounds a game. The Hurricanes have out-rebounded North Carolina and West Virginia while coming up short against Florida and Connecticut on the boards. They were 1-3 in those contests. Obviously, Clark wants more.

"There is only so much horse-riding you can do," said Clark, referring to the scoring punch provided by Rice and Jones. "We need some of the other guys to step it up a little."

If the Hurricanes were ever looking for a remedy facing the Pirates might not be a bad place to start.

Just like the Hurricanes the low-tier Pirates, 5-8 overall and in last place in the West Division of the Big East, opened the conference portion of their schedule with consecutive losses (Syracuse, Notre Dame). The youth-filled and undersized Pirates have also had their share of problems rebounding the basketball and spreading the scoring around. With just three players averaging double-figure points and no starter taller than 6-8 the Pirates have encountered difficulties with physical and high-powered opponents.

Junior guard Andre Bennett has been the Pirates leading scorer in eight of 12 games (omitting the Georgetown game) and carried the offense most of the season. Bennett, averaging a team-leading 17.5 points, is an adequate shooter with the ability to create for the rest of his teammates and is unafraid of throwing his body in the paint. Barrett is averaging 3.8 rebounds a game.

Another of the players that the Hurricanes will have to be aware of, more importantly Rice and Jones, is sophomore forward John Allen. The 6-5, 205-pounder is averaging 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. Freshman forward Kelly Whitney is scoring 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a contest.

The Pirates went into their game against Georgetown on a three-game losing streak.

UM will be heading back home to start a three-game stand at the Convocation Center that will include Connecticut (Jan. 20), Syracuse (Jan. 26) and Providence (Jan. 29).

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