Looking to snap a two-game losing streak and climb out of last-place in the East Division of the Big East against Virginia Tech tonight at the Convocation Center in Coral Gables, Clark has replaced guards Armondo Surratt and Robert Hite with freshmen Gary Hamilton and Eric Wilkins in the Hurricanes' starting line-up.
Clark is hoping the insertion of the 6-9, 240-pound Hamilton and Wilkins can help neutralize a physical Virginia Tech team that features senior center Terry Taylor. The 6-8 Taylor is first in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and second in scoring (14.5 ppg) on the Hokies. At 6-7, junior forward Bryant Matthews (16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) will also provide the Hurricanes with a stern test in the paint. Virginia Tech (10-11, 3-5) is fourth in the conference and ahead of Providence and Miami.
But the Hurricanes' coaching brass is taking a chance that they will be better off going with a little more size on the court aside from the fact they haven't been thrilled with the production out of Surratt and Hite lately.
It better work.
A year removed from a berth in the NCAA Tournament the Hurricanes (9-10, 2-6) are sixth in their conference and in serious danger of missing the Big East Championships if they don't turn it around in a hurry. Miami, which hasn't missed a conference tournament since the insertion of the Big East, will not be included in the tournament if they finish last in the conference. And with just one game separating the two combatants in tonight's meeting a Miami victory against the Hokies isn't an option.
"We need this one," said Miami senior forward James Jones. "I don't want to see my Miami career end like this."
Clark said Monday that the main reason that Hamilton and Wilkins are being added to the line-up is to take some of the defensive responsibilities from Jones who has seen his offensive numbers dip in recent weeks. Besides being bothered by a shoulder injury, Clark indicated that Jones having to guard bigger players has had a negative effect on his offense. A reliable scorer, Jones has averaged 11.5 points in the last six games.
Miami, 1-4 in their last five games, is 11th in scoring in the Big East (70.7 points a game) and continues to struggle to find any offense besides Jones and junior forward Darius Rice. The Hurricanes were held to 38.6 percent shooting in a loss to Villanova last Saturday and it might have been worse if not for 26 points from Rice. Rice is averaging 25.3 points in the last seven games but Miami has still had trouble closing games out. The Hurricanes are 3-8 in games decided by five points or less.
Despite being under .500, Virginia Tech is coming off impressive victories over Connecticut and St. John's. The Hokies win against the Red Storm was the team's first conference win on the road this season and only second triumph away from home in three years in the Big East. Miami's second-ranked defense in the Big East, allowing 67 points a contest, will be put to the test. The Hokies have won the last two games by an average of 27.5 points a game. Junior guard Carlos Dixon (15.0 ppg) is 20th in the Big East in scoring.
Miami leads the all-time series 3-1 including a season-sweep last season.
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