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Miami Hurricanes freshman guard Manu Lecomte revitalized after demotion

Manu Lecomte of the Miami Hurricanes drives against Trae Golden of Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 18, 2014 in Atlanta.
Manu Lecomte of the Miami Hurricanes drives against Trae Golden of Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 18, 2014 in Atlanta.
Scott Cunningham / Getty Images

Saturday: N.C. State at Miami men

When/where: 2 p.m.; BankUnited Center.

TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560, WVUM 90.5 FM.

Records: North Carolina State 14-8 (4-5 ACC); UM 11-11 (2-7).

Scouting report: N.C. State’s T.J. Warren, a 6-8, 215-pound sophomore forward, leads the ACC in scoring (22.4) and ranks seventh in rebounding (7.3).

Special to the Miami Herald

Even though he is a freshman starter for the the University of Miami men’s basketball team, Manu Lecomte might not be the team’s point guard of the future.

That designation, by reputation at least, belongs to Angel Rodriguez, who is sitting this season out because of NCAA transfer rules. But he started 50 games at Kansas State and made All-Big 12 second team as a sophomore last season.

Still, Lecomte, a 5-11, 160-pounder from Belgium, doesn’t seem to mind the prospect of added competition.

“We’re going to have a lot of guards next year,” Lecomte said, referring to shooting guard Sheldon McClellan, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Texas, and combo guard Deandre Burnett, who is injured but should return next season.

“Angel is a very good player, and he’s doing a great job [in practices]. It’s a chance for me to get better.”

The Canes are hoping that improvement comes quickly because they have lost four consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference games and are 0-5 in league play at home this season.

Miami (11-11, 2-7) can break both streaks with a win Saturday against ACC rival North Carolina State (14-8, 4-5). Tip-off at BankUnited Center is at 2 p.m.

Lecomte, who has started 13 games, is fourth on the team in scoring (8.0), second in assists (55) and tied for third in steals (13).

His 40 turnovers are second most on the team, but that is not an awful amount of miscues for a freshman point guard playing his first year in the United States and thrust into a starting role in an elite league such as the ACC.

Lecomte, of course, would have been a backup had Shane Larkin not opted to leave early for the NBA. Even so, Lecomte has looked comfortable most of the time.

He is a pass-first point guard — the type teammates like to play with — but Lecomte can shoot. He is deadly on drives, and his 40.9 three-point percentage leads the team. He also makes 77.4 percent at the foul line, second best on the team.

Earlier this week, Canes Coach Jim Larrañaga said Lecomte has played well for the past five games but needs to keep that going.

“Manu is a very conservative young man,” Larrañaga said. “He would probably prefer to distribute the ball. But he happens to be one of our best shooters.”

Lecomte was benched for nine consecutive games, starting Nov. 29 against Cal State Fullerton. The Canes went instead with 6-6 freshman Davon Reed, a natural wing, and Larrañaga said at the time that the reason for Lecomte’s demotion was that more length was needed on defense for Miami’s new zone.

To his credit, Lecomte did not sulk. In fact, during his nine games out of the starting lineup, he scored in double figures twice. The last of those came Jan. 8, when he scored 11 points in an upset win at North Carolina.

Lecomte’s days on the bench were done after that — for now at least. Larrañaga said the bench has a way of getting players’ attention, and Lecomte didn’t disagree.

“He told me to be more aggressive,” Lecomte said.

Larrañaga said when Lecomte first arrived on campus he deferred too much to the upperclassmen.

“He found out that’s not what I wanted,” Larrañaga said. “I wanted him to try more and do more.”

Larrañaga also said he found out that Reed’s place is on the wing, where he can be a spot-up shooter. He also knew Miami needed more scoring after ranking among the worst teams in college basketball in points per possession.

“We were happy with Davon at point guard initially against nonconference opponents because they didn’t pressure him,” Larrañaga said.

But that was not the case in league play.

“Manu didn’t get any bigger in our zone,” Larrañaga said, “but he started to be more productive on offense, and we need anyone who can score to be out on the floor.”

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