Men’s Basketball tops Miami for second ACC win

Despite enduring one of the most difficult seasons in recent memory, the men’s basketball team had enough left in the tank to pull out one more victory on Senior Night. Tech closed out its home schedule with a 78-68 win over Miami on Wednesday night, improving to 11-17 overall and 2-13 in ACC play.

The night belonged to guard Lewis Clinch, one of Tech’s four graduating seniors and the team’s top outside scoring threat, especially over the final stretch of the season. Clinch was on fire from the very beginning; he drained a pair of three-pointers in the first two minutes, and he did not let up for the rest of the game.

At game’s end he had tallied nine three-pointers, tied for the second-most in a single game in Tech history. Clinch had 30 points overall, and he was also important defensively, collecting three steals and keeping Miami star Jack McClinton in check for much of the game.

“This was by far the best I’ve felt, probably going back to my freshman year…I felt like when I was shooting the ball, the rim was as big as the ocean—you just throw it up and it’s going in,” Clinch said.

A former five-star recruit, Clinch recovered from a very rough start of the season to close his career with a string of strong performances. He actually missed the beginning of the season after being deemed academically ineligible, and he struggled in conference play upon returning, but he has started to hit his stride recently.

Clinch’s 17-point performance was instrumental in the win over No. 6 Wake Forest, and he has scored at least 20 points in each of the last four games; his average of 14.2 points per game is second on the team, behind only sophomore forward Gani Lawal. He hopes his recent hot streak will continue into postseason play and help the Jackets to make a surprise run in the ACC tournament.

“We’re not giving up; we’re going to Boston College [on Saturday] preparing to take another one and preparing to win this ACC tournament and go to the NCAA tournament. That’s the kind of mindset that we have, and that’s the mindset we’re going to keep in our locker room,” Clinch said.

Tech’s other key senior is Alade Aminu, the athletic 6-10 center who opened the season as a regular starter, but was relegated to being the team’s top reserve when Head Coach Paul Hewitt elected to switch to a three-guard attack. Still, in his current role he sees just as much time as any of the starters. Aminu has averaged over eight rebounds per game, second on the team behind Lawal, and Hewitt frequently takes advantage of his length by having him cover inbound passers as part of the coach’s press defense.

After Clinch’s opening three-pointers in Wednesday’s game, Aminu threw down a powerful dunk that energized the crowd. However, it came at a cost, as Hewitt noted that Aminu appeared to hurt his wrist on the dunk and was less effective as the game went on. Still, the forward tallied five rebounds and five blocks despite the injury.

Tech’s other two seniors unfortunately did not receive any minutes on Wednesday. Forward Bassirou Dieng, who transferred here from St. Francis in Pennsylvania, played at Tech for his final year of NCAA eligibility. The Senegalese forward completed his undergraduate degree at St. Francis and has enrolled in Tech’s graduate program for International Affairs.

Three-year walk-on guard Gary Cage saw plenty of playing time early in the season as a reserve point guard, but like Dieng, his minutes dwindled after the ACC schedule began. Cage, who played alongside former Tech point guard Javaris Crittenton and current NBA star Dwight Howard in high school, earned a basketball scholarship for his senior season and has also lettered in the 800-meter for Tech’s track-and-field team.

Also of note is that Tech would have had a fifth senior this season in guard-forward D’Andre Bell. However, prior to the season Bell was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a congenital condition that forced him to sit out the season; Bell has been cleared to play next year, so the 2009-10 season will be his senior campaign.