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UM hopes to end ACC road woes at NC State

Hurricanes point guard Malcolm Grant said he'd like to own a black Dodge Charger some day soon so he can stop bothering his teammates for a ride. But first, the 6-1, 180-pound junior from Brooklyn has to finally get his drivers license.

Malcolm Grant "I've taken [the test] once and failed really bad," Grant said Friday. "It's a really funny story. I ran into the cones when I was parking. The [instructor] asked me, 'How long have you been driving?' I said, 'Two weeks.' He said, 'That's the reason right there. You're not ready. You're not ready to drive.'

"He kind of hurt my feelings and I got out of the car real mad. But I can drive now. I just wasn't ready for the test the other day."

UM coach Frank Haith, who likes to give Grant a hard time about his driving, joked South Floridians should be happy Grant isn't on the road. "He has a tough time figuring out how to put his seatbelt on," Haith said. "So, there's no way he should get a license."

Haith doesn't want to see Grant behind the wheel, but he's definitely hoping he can start steering the Hurricanes' offense in the right direction beginning Sunday at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. against N.C. State (11-7, 1-3).

UM has lost 11 straight road games in the ACC and is coming off its first home loss of the season Wednesday night to rival Florida State -- a bitter defeat that saw the Hurricanes (12-6, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) blow a seven-point lead with over six minutes to play.

Grant, who scored 20 points, was the only UM player to score in double-digits and make a field goal (a three-pointer) over the final six minutes of the game.

Despite holding FSU to a season-low 19.2 percent shooting in the first half and leading by as many as 12 points, the Canes converted only six of their final 22 field goal attempts and shot 34 percent for the game. Sophomore guard Durand Scott missed two crucial lay-ups on UM's final two offensive possessions -- including one that would have tied the game with three seconds to play.

"Looking back at the film, maybe I should have looked back around to see who was open instead of going directly to the basket," Scott said. "That would have been my better choice. But in the heat of the moment, it's kind of hard to think about stopping knowing there is 10 seconds on the clock."

Grant took UM's final shot -- a three-pointer -- with two defenders in his face as the final second was ticking off the clock. It was partially blocked. Grant said Friday he was fouled attempting it. But referees didn't call it and ruled the shot was released after the game clock had expired.

"After the game, the day after I was still upset about it," Grant said. "But I just had to let it go man... Nobody is really panicking yet. We understand what our record was last year. But at the same time we know its a long season. We're ready to keep fighting."

N.C. State is coming off three consecutive losses to the top three teams in the league: Florida State, Boston College and Duke. But the Wolfpack, picked to finish fourth in the ACC in the preseason, are a dangerous team according to Haith.

Coach Sidney Lowe recruited the seventh best freshman class in the country last season according to ESPN, adding 6-8, 205-pound forward C.J. Leslie (11.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and guard Lorenzo Brown (8.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) to a team already featuring All-ACC forward Tracy Smith (15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and swingman Scott Wood (10.9 ppg), one of the league's top three-point shooters.

"It's a very gifted team in terms of talent," Haith said. "They've lost a couple games here late. I'm sure they think its a home game they got to have to get back in the race. But we feel like its a road game we have to have. It should be an intense basketball game."

A big key for UM's struggling will be getting center Reggie Johnson more involved in the offense. UM's third leading scorer has been battling bone spurs in his right foot since the day after the Canes' loss at Duke on Jan. 2. Johnson has scored 22 points combined over his last three games and hasn't attempted more than six field goals in any of those games. He's averaged under 25 minutes during that span while also battling foul trouble.

"When we do see Reggie's number -- and that 42 is hard to miss -- we got to throw it to him," Haith said. "But he has to do his work early. People are looking to take him out. He's got to work a little harder. The other night he missed a couple shots, got frustrated, so he wasn't himself. That's part of his maturity. He can't let past plays affect his current play."

As much as UM's offense has struggled, turnovers really haven't been the problem. Since ACC play began, the Canes haven't had more than 12 in any of their first four games. Haith said the problem hasn't been shot selection either.

"If you really dissect it, we really got some good looks," Haith said. "Adrian Thomas from three-point range with nobody in front of him. That's a good shot. Everytime we got the ball inside to Reggie he missed a couple bunnies. Those are good shots for us.

"That's tell me we're doing okay offensively. We just have to make some shots. "


> Haith doesn't want to get fined for complaining about the officiating on Wednesday, but he was obviously upset with the discrepancy (UM went to the line 20 times, FSU went 30).

"Couple plays that could have gone either way," Haith said of the officiating Friday. "The play before Durand brought the ball up with 10 seconds, there was a lot of contact there. The referee didn't think it was enough to warrant the foul. Durand's next play though was tough to see. Malcolm's [last-second shot] there was some contact there. It's part of it. Late game, referees want to make sure they see it good before they make a call like that... I'm being politically correct of course."

> Although they aren't exactly as stingy as Florida State when it comes to clamping down on shooters, UM's defense has steadily improved this season at least in conference play. Last year, UM ranked last in three-point shooting defense (.386) and ninth in field goal defense (.440). Through four games against three of the top teams in the standings: UM ranks seventh in field goal defense (.429) and fifth against three-pointers (.318).

"We went into the year thinking we were going to be a primary zone defense. We worked on it a lot. But I think we're a pretty good man defense too," Haith said. "Against Boston College we played a lot of man, we mixed it in a lot. I think it's good to have the ability to do both. Our zone has man principles. It's very similar. We pressure the ball, have help side defense, we rotate. It's very similar other than we're stationary. We don't run all over the court."

> Haith said freshman forward Erik Swoope might be the toughest and grittiest guy on the team.

"This guy turned his ankle the day before. His ankle ballooned up. He finished practice. [Our trainer] said 'He better go get an x-ray because I think it's broken.' He comes back, finds out its not broken, says 'I'm playing.' He can hardly walk, gets treatment all day and he's playing," Haith said.

"He has that 'it' factor. I love him. I love what he stands for. I love what he's all about. You can win with guys like that. He's a little undersized. But he plays with a lot of grit."

> Haith said he's hopeful swing man DeQuan Jones (broken right hand) will return some point later on this season. Without Jones on Wednesday, Haith juggled his lineup a bit -- giving more time to his freshmen.

"We ended up sizing down, playing Adrian [Thomas] more at the three and moving Raphael [Akpejiori] in the post. That's what we have to do. Hopefully, Rion Brown will get more minutes too."

> Even though they're 1-3 in league play and likely need to win seven of their final 12 league games to have any shot at going to the NCAA Tournament, Malcolm Grant isn't worried.

"We're going to continue to do the same things we've been doing," Grant said. "We're going to turn it around. Nobody is panicking. We all still believe we're going to make the tournament, we're going to do it -- I know that for a fact."