Miami Hurricanes headed to first Final Four in school history after comeback win over Texas
Coach Jim Larranaga and his Miami Hurricanes will keep on dancing to the first Final Four in school history after a gutsy 88-81 come-from-behind win over the second-seeded Texas Longhorns, who were the highest seed remaining in the tournament.
Orange and green confetti rained down on the court as the Hurricanes raised the Midwest Region trophy and then climbed ladders to cut down nets for the second time this season, following the celebration of the ACC regular season title.
Fifth-seeded Miami will play No. 4 UConn on Saturday in Houston at 8:49 p.m. San Diego State plays Florida Atlantic University in the other national semifinal.
“It was a feeling that is unreal,” said guard Nijel Pack. “To come back from that deficit, especially some people were starting to doubt, could we come back? How hard we fought to get back in this game and to come back and actually win this game, especially on a stage like this, it was an amazing feeling I can’t even put into words.”
Jordan Miller, who led the Hurricanes with 27 points, added: “Anything can happen with how much time is left on the clock. Coach always preaches that. After the buzzer sounded, it felt surreal. Being able to go on stage, hold up the trophy, cut down nets again, truly blessed. We’re going to celebrate tonight, maybe a little bit tomorrow. But it’s not over. We’ve got a team that’s rolling next, UConn. So celebrate and then on to the next one.”
Before the game, Larranaga said on a tournament video that the team didn’t want to stop, and that getting to the first Final Four in UM history would be extremely special. He had been there once before, with George Mason in 2006, but never since joining UM 12 years ago.
“My favorite song is ‘One Shining Moment,”’ the coach said. “I’d love to hear that in person, on the court, celebrating with my team.”
He may get his wish.
The Hurricanes trailed by 13 midway through the second half against Texas and it seemed the Canes’ March magic was over. But then the tide turned with some huge plays by ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong, Wooga Poplar and Jordan Miller.
The score was tied 79-79 with 1:20 to go and all 17,530 fans at the TMobile Center arena were on their feet.
Miami scraped and clawed, got some key steals and made nine free throws in a row in the final minute to seal the historic win. Norchad Omier had two, Wong had two, Miller had four and Poplar one.
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Texas coach Rodney Terry, asked how Miami was able to stage the comeback, said: “Miami really started trying to get downhill. They started putting their heads down, going one-on-one a little bit, tried to spread us out. And really did a good job of getting into the paint and getting to the foul line. They made 28 free throws and gave them 32 foul shots. They did a good job of really attacking the paint.”
Texas was playing so well that they led the Hurricanes by 12 even though Miami was shooting 65 percent.
But UM players dug deep and “willed” themselves to win, Miller said.
The Hurricanes were determined to get to the Final Four after falling just short last March, and one of the team’s most rabid fans, Jean “JD da Boss” DeSilus. was front and center. He was decked in full Miami gear, including a turnover “305” chain and a basketball net on his head.
He flew in on a private jet as a guest of UM super booster John Ruiz.
“It’s really special to me to be here, have never been to a game of this magnitude on site,” he said. “We always have road watch parties from Miami, but never been in person. It feels outstanding.”
He has been supporting Hurricanes basketball since the early 1990s, when Leonard Hamilton was the coach and they played at the Miami Arena. “Football is doing their things, but we can play basketball, too.”
Miller was 7-of-7 from the floor and 13-of-13 from the free-throw line. Poplar had 16, Pack 15, Wong 14 and Omier had 11 points and nine rebounds.
The teams entered the game with similar records and were coming off emphatic wins in the Sweet 16 — Miami over top-seed Houston and Texas over No. 3 Xavier.
The game featured a highly anticipated matchup between the Hurricanes’ and Longhorns’ guards.
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The Miami guard trio of Pack, Wong and Miller combined for 59 points on Friday against top-seed Houston, a team that ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 57 points per game. Miami scored 89 against the Cougars.
Texas guards Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter are among the best backcourts in the country. Hunter, who transferred to Texas from Iowa State this season, had extra motivation against Miami because the Hurricanes beat the Cyclones in the Sweet 16 last March.
The Longhorns were missing Dylan Disu, the Big 12 tournament MVP, who aggravated a bone bruise in his left foot in the second-round win over Penn State. He was having a breakout tournament with 23.5 points and 10 rebounds in the first two rounds.
Miami’s most diehard boosters were proud to see the school raising its basketball profile and getting national recognition. Among the donors who sat just behind the bench were Ruiz, Jorge and Jose Mas, Manny Kadre and Jimmy Klotz.
“It’s a great thing to have our men’s and women’s teams go this far,” said Klotz, who was a major contributor to the Watsco Center basketball scoreboard. “We’ve got great players, great kids and the best coaches in the country.”
Jorge Mas added: “I bleed green and orange and this is an amazing accomplishment for the university, and a great tribute to what Coach Larranaga has been able to accomplish. He came into a program under some turmoil, and what he’s been able to do, not only as a basketball coach, but as a teacher of young men is amazing.”