Miami, trailing and listless in the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s Round of 8 game against Texas, staged a brilliant, short comeback in the men’s NCAA Tournament to secure the last spot in next weekend’s Final Four in Houston.
Miami, which won 88-81, will play San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Connecticut in its first national semifinal, rounding out the rest of the field.
The Hurricanes started fast, but quickly fell behind the Longhorns, who were playing in front of a pro-Texas crowd.
Miami, calm and persistent, began to claw back from a 13-point hole with less than 14 minutes to play, eventually setting up a furious few minutes when it strung together a series of defensive stops and a run of key free throws. Sophomore forward Norsad Omeyer scored two of them with the game tied a minute into the game.
When it looked like the Longhorns would travel for home-state advantage in Houston next weekend, Miami was flatlining.
Both teams featured players who represented the drive and commercialization of modern college basketball. Texas started four transfers, including its hard-charging graduate point guard Marcus Carr.
Miami was led by 6-foot-7 senior Jordan Miller, who scored 27 points and had a key steal with two minutes left. Because of the fancy name, image and similar arrangements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the team was paced by two guards, Isaiah Wong and Nigel Back, who played in Coral Gables, Fla., this season. When Miami bowled Sunday, Pack, who scored 15 points, drifted in and out of scoring lanes, soaring toward the rim for subtle finishes and retreating to short fadeaways.
San Diego State moved past a familiar foe.
In November, when Creighton left for the Maui Invitational, the Bluejays stopped in San Diego and shared a charter jet to Hawaii with the San Diego State team the next day. Memories of Creighton’s overtime win over San Diego State in the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament the previous March may have led to some awkward moments.
But two coaches, Creighton’s Greg McDermott and San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, sat across the aisle, watching film on their laptops, trading scouting reports and talking about the possibility of an early-season comeback. Competition.
At least they didn’t. The teams flew back to San Diego, dropped off the Aztecs, and the coaches — and their teams — said goodbye to each other.
See you on the road.
That meandering path has taken both teams to places they’ve never been before, with coaches and players — including two brothers, Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma and San Diego State’s Adam Sieko — marveling at the serendipity of it all.
“I never thought we’d play them here or try to steal some play calls from his system,” Dutcher said.
The next time the two coaches got together, the boundaries of the brotherhood would be tested after San Diego State rallied on Darian Trammell’s free throw to pull within 57-56 with 1.2 seconds left. The game was so thick with twists and turns and tension that it didn’t end even after it turned into a final rumble.
San Diego State, which has been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament just twice, will take on East Region champion ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic in the national championship game in Houston on Saturday.
The deciding play came as San Diego State ran out the clock on the final shot.
Trammell drove into the lane with Ryan Nembhard on his right hip and unleashed a floater that grazed the rim as the buzzer sounded. But as Trammell lay on the court, referee Lee Cassel’s whistle blew.
Soon, Trammell had the crowd on its feet and headed to the foul line, with four teammates behind him — and the entire Aztec bench — locking arms. Trammell’s first free throw rolled off the rim, and the crowd’s roar grew even louder.
He took two drops, a deep breath and drew the next.
Baylor Shearman, who played quarterback in high school, drove the ball inside and threw a long pass to Kaluma and San Diego State’s Akuk Arop near the other endline. They tipped the ball out of bounds as the buzzer sounded. However, the officials returned both teams to their benches and reviewed the play to see who touched the ball last and if there was still time.
After a few minutes, they judged that time was up. San Diego State players rushed the field to celebrate.
The last six seconds “felt like an eternity,” Omaha-based San Diego State forward Arop said on the court after he and his teammates cut down the nets.
McDermott, who yelled at officers as he left the courtroom, said he was unable to get an explanation for the verdict, saying he had run out of time. The NCAA said in a statement that the review indicated that the clock had started running late. McDermott declined to criticize the foul call.
“Both teams played their tails off,” he said. “Official is part of the game. We’re not going to go there. We lost a game because we didn’t do enough and San Diego State lost.
Dutcher praised McDermott on a controversial foul call, citing his time as an assistant at Michigan when Seton Hall beat Seton Hall for the 1989 national championship. “Difficult. We all do some grace in losing even if we don’t accept the invitation,” Dutcher said.
San Diego State guard Lamond Butler had 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and was poised to take the final shot until Creighton fouled him with six seconds left, forcing the Aztecs to take the ball out of bounds but also running off the shot clock.
Trammell, from Seattle University, scored 21 points to help lead San Diego State past top-ranked Alabama, making just 5 of his 14 shot attempts and never getting to the free-throw line. The final second.
When he stepped to the line after missing his first attempt, Trammell said he reminded himself that he had made 1,000 free throws last week and that the moment was no big deal for him. “I had to believe it,” he said. “With that confidence, yes, I missed the first one, but I’m definitely not going to miss the second one.”
San Diego State, which enjoys a strong home-court advantage, has been a regular NCAA contender in the Mountain West Conference, but has been overshadowed by Gonzaga and Pac-12 Conference teams. Nevertheless, this is the moment the program has long hoped would arrive.
“You picture hope when you sleep, you picture hope when you work, and you hope the dream comes true,” said Nathan Mensah, San Diego State’s 6-foot-10 senior center, who contributed 8 points, 6 rebounds. and 3 modules. “Finally that dream came true for us.”
Against San Diego State’s muscular, methodical brand of basketball, Creighton’s artful, free-flowing offense unfolded in contrasting styles.
It was mostly played at San Diego State’s preferred pace, but Creighton almost exclusively played with the lead, holding off repeated Aztec charges until the final minutes.
After Creighton jumped out to a 28-20 lead, spurred on by the blue-clad crowd, San Diego State finally figured out how to stop the Bluejays’ 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner from diving to the rim. To use the alley-oop or his nifty post moves. Mensah did a yeoman’s job against Kalkbrenner, who led Creighton with 17 points.
When Trammell sank a jumper near the free-throw line, San Diego State finally got a lead with less than three minutes left in the half. But Creighton didn’t allow another basket and led 33-28 at halftime.
San Diego State stormed out of the locker room, and when Mensah blocked consecutive shot attempts, sparking Butler’s fast break, the Aztecs took their first lead at 35-34.
Again, it didn’t last long. Kaluma responded with a driving layup, and San Diego State went cold, missing its next 10 shots — many of them on drives to the rim. But the Aztecs leaned on their defense and depth, wearing down the Bluejays after halftime. Creighton shot just 28 percent in the second half, including a season-low 23 points in the half. The Bluejays missed 10 of their 3-point attempts in the half.
Kaluma and Seiko’s parents, along with their two young sisters, sat a few rows back at center court wearing personalized white T-shirts with basketballs, the logos of both schools and the brothers’ names and numbers.
After the game, their two sons hugged in a handshake line, and Seiko told Kaluma that he loved him. During that time, they also acted as role models for their teams, one of them cutting nets and the other felt like cutting hearts.