KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong rallied Miami from a 13-point second-half deficit, Norchad Omier made two big free throws and an even more important steal down the stretch, and the fifth-seeded Hurricanes stunned No. 2 seed Texas 88-81 on Sunday to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Miller finished with 27 points, going 7 of 7 from the field and 13 of 13 from the foul line, while Wong scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half to beat the Longhorns, who had been the top remaining seed in a topsy-turvy NCAA Tournament.
Now, after falling short in the Elite Eight a year ago, the fifth-seeded Hurricanes (29-7) are headed to NRG Stadium in Houston for a date with No. 4 seed UConn on Saturday night. Two more first-time Final Four participants, fifth-seeded San Diego State and No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, will play in the other national semifinal.
It’s the first time since seeding began in 1979 that no team seeded better than No. 4 made the Final Four, so perhaps it is fitting that Miami coach Jim Larrañaga is involved. He took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.
“No one wanted to go home,” said Miller, coincidentally a George Mason transfer, who joined Duke’s Christian Laettner as the only players since 1960 to go 20 for 20 combined from the field and foul line in an NCAA tourney game. “We came together. We stuck together. We showed really good perseverance and the will — the will to just want to get there.”
Miami and Texas were tied 79-all when Omier, known for his bruising style of play, was fouled by the Longhorns’ Brock Cunningham while going for a loose ball. He made both of the foul shots to give the Hurricanes the lead, then stole the ball from Texas star Marcus Carr at the other end, and Wong made to more free throws with 34 seconds remaining.
Miller kept drilling foul shots down the stretch to ice the Midwest Region title for the Hurricanes.
Wooga Poplar scored 16 points, and Nijel Pack followed up his virtuoso performance against top-seeded Houston with 15, as the same school that once dropped hoops entirely in the 1970s advanced to the game’s biggest stage.
Carr led the Longhorns (29-9) with 17 points, though he was bothered by a hamstring injury late in the game. Timmy Allen added 16 points and Sir’Jabari Rice had 15 in the finale of a season that began with the firing of Chris Beard over domestic violence charges that were later dropped and ended with interim coach Rodney Terry consoling a heartbroken team.
“These guys more than any group I’ve worked with in 32 years of coaching have really embodied, in terms of staying the course, being a team,” Terry said, choking up so hard on the postgame dais that he could barely speak. “They were so unselfish as a team, and they gave us everything they had. They really did.”
The Longhorns revealed about 90 minutes before tipoff that Dylan Disu, the Big 12 tourney MVP and early star of the NCAA Tournament, would miss the game with a foot injury. He hurt it in the second round against Penn State and only played about 90 seconds in the Sweet 16 against Xavier before watching the rest of that game in a walking boot.
Without their 6-foot-9 star in the paint, the Longhorns’ deep group of dangerous guards resorted to potshots from the perimeter against Miami’s porous defense. Rice hit two 3s early, Carr added two of his own, and the Longhorns — who tied a school tourney record with 13 3s in the first round against Colgate — hit seven in storming to a 45-37 halftime lead.
On the other end, Texas tried to keep Pack and Wong from producing a sequel to their 3-point barrage against Houston.
Pack, who dropped seven 3s in the regional semifinal, didn’t even attempt one until there were 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half, and his best shot — a looping rainbow over the backboard as he fell out of bounds — didn’t even count.
Wong took as many shots and scored as many points (two) as he had turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes.
SAN DIEGO ST. 57, CREIGHTON 56
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Creighton guard Ryan Nembhard sat quietly, tossing his head back and taking a deep breath as he reflected on the decisive foul called with 1.2 seconds left in the NCAA Tournament’s South Region final against San Diego State.
Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman, seated next to Nembhard, had towels over their mouths.
After Sunday’s stunning conclusion to the best season in school history, Creighton’s players were confounded, dejected and almost speechless.
“It’s a tough feeling. You work so hard all year, and it comes down to a play like that,” Nembhard said. “I think we could have done a little bit more to make it a game that didn’t have to go down to that, but it’s a tough way to lose.”
The Bluejays didn’t blame anyone but themselves for the 57-56 loss that sent them back to Omaha, Nebraska, one win and two points short of their first Final Four trip, while setting off a wild celebration for San Diego State, which is bound for Houston next weekend. The Aztecs will face East Region champion Florida Atlantic, another first-time Final Four team.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott credited his longtime friend and colleague, Brian Dutcher, for devising a defensive scheme that allowed the Aztecs to impose their will on one of the country’s top offensive teams.
Creighton (24-13) entered the game averaging 77.0 points and 8.8 3-pointers, a finely tuned scoring machine that took it through the first three rounds of March Madness. San Diego State limited the Bluejays to their second-lowest point total of the season and two 3s on 17 attempts.
The Bluejays never led by more than eight, relinquished their advantage with 6:45 to go and never led again.
They were plagued by errant shots, unfortunate bounces, and questionable decisions such as McDermott’s instruction to give a sixth team foul with 6.7 seconds left. That turned off the shot clock and allowed the Aztecs to take the final shot.