Saturday, January 31, 2004

St. Clair improving after a rocky start

Shot of confidence boosts Roger Bacon product

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

Monty St. Clair was starting to wonder if he would ever hit a 3-pointer in college.

The Miami freshman, who averaged 19 points a game as a Roger Bacon senior last season, opened his college career by missing 18 of his first 20 shots, including all seven of his 3-point attempts. He'd been through slumps before, but he'd never gone almost two months without hitting a 3-pointer.

"It was real tough, at first," St. Clair said. "Things were fine in practice, but it just wasn't carrying over to the games. It was frustrating. I was starting to lose some patience."

RedHawks coach Charlie Coles credits St. Clair for not letting his problems on offense carry over to other parts of his game, and that approach paid off. He went 5-for-6 overall and 4-for-5 on 3-pointers while scoring 14 points in Miami's win at Central Michigan on Jan. 21. He sank his first two 3-pointers in Miami's next game, a win over Eastern Michigan on Jan. 24, to give him a streak of five in a row. He scored 11 points against the Eagles.

St. Clair's improvement and the steady play of classmate Nathan Peavy off the bench are the highlights of their class' contributions to a Miami team that has won six of its last seven games and is 10-6 overall and 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference.

Three other newcomers - forward Eric Van Buskirk (Loveland), guard Tyler Jones (Grant County) and walk-on guard Doug Penno (Alter) - haven't been as instrumental, because the numbers are against them getting enough playing time to contribute. Another walk-on, 6-foot-2 guard Tyler Ford from Springfield North, joined the team in November and has logged two minutes in two games.

St. Clair's progress has given Miami consistency at the center position.

"I've enjoyed coaching him," Coles said. "He works hard. Sometimes he's too conscientious because he wants to do well. He puts too much pressure on himself early."

St. Clair credits veterans Juby Johnson and Chet Mason with making sure he didn't just focus on his shooting problems.

"They helped me forget about my shot and just worry about playing," St. Clair said. "I was happy with my defense so far. I thought I was doing everything pretty good - except making shots.

"My confidence is way up now, especially offensively. It's a lot more fun now that the shots are starting to fall."

Struggling as St. Clair did might turn out to be good for him, Coles added.

"Sooner or later, all athletes struggle," Coles said. "They go through things they haven't been through before. I knew he was hurting more than I was."

The 6-8 Van Buskirk started three of Miami's first four games, but he didn't get off the bench in five of the RedHawks' seven January games, and he played a total of eight minutes in the other two.

Jones, who averaged 24 points as a high school senior, and Penno are caught behind four other more experienced guards, though Penno did play 12 minutes against Marshall on Wednesday.

Peavy has turned in several eye-catching plays and has appeared in all 16 games, averaging 3.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 11.2 minutes.

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