Miami men’s basketball and its fans were reminded about the craziness of March Madness on Friday night.
With 5:40 to go and down eight points, it seemed that the Hurricanes’ chances of advancing to the Round of 32 were slim.
But a slim chance is all that it takes in March.
Fifth-seeded Miami came back and beat the 12-seeded Drake Bulldogs, 63-56, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at MVP Arena in Albany, NY.
“That was a heck of a win,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “The guys really rallied in the second half. We made some adjustments with what we were doing offensively, and we really stepped up defensively.”
Miami (26-7) ended the game on a 16-1 run to defeat the Bulldogs, led by guard Nijel Pack. The sophomore, who made his NCAA Tournament debut as a Hurricane, led Miami with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He hit a side-step jumper with a minute remaining to give the ‘Canes the lead.
Miami forward Norchad Omier, who was questionable to play in the hours before tip-off, had his 15th double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
“Norchad was a monster on the boards,” Larrañaga said. “Wooga [Poplar] and Nijel were just sensational on the offensive end, making threes, making twos [and] finding the open man.”
However, Miami had a lot of difficulty guarding Drake (27-8). Forward Darnell Brodie had a season-high 20 points and posted nine boards, most of which were against Omier.
Although Miami didn’t get its first field goal until the 13:04 mark of the first half, the Hurricanes were able to spring to an early 13-9 lead thanks to an 8-0 run. However, scoring droughts followed and Drake went on a 9-0 run.
Even though Miami shot just 7-of-30 from the field in the first half, the ‘Canes went 5-of-9 from 3-point range to keep them in the game. Drake led 30-25 at halftime.
“At halftime, I talked to the coaches, and we were trying to figure out what we could do,” Larrañaga said. “We decided to do what I like to do against [North] Carolina and Duke —set up a ton of ball screens and make their big guys have to come out and guard it. “
In the second half, Miami came out on the front foot. A 7-2 run by the ‘Canes tied the game early in the half, but Miami soon went through another scoring drought.
However, the Hurricanes stepped up their game when it mattered most.
“[When] we went to the last media timeout, I was like ‘Man, this can’t be the way how it ends,’” Pack said. “I talked to my teammates. They felt the same way. We kind of brought some inner energy from within us.”
Next up, the ‘Canes will face fourth-seeded Indiana on Sunday at MVP Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:40 p.m. on TNT.