Furious finishes set the Final Four: No. 5 seeds Miami, San Diego State are in
March 26, 2023 Updated Sun., March 26, 2023 at 9:22 p.m.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Miami, trailing and listless for much of the first 30 minutes of its Elite Eight game against Texas on Sunday, mounted a stunning, compact comeback in the NCAA Tournament to claim the last spot in the Final Four next weekend in Houston.
Miami, which won 88-81, will play in its first national semifinal, with San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Connecticut, its next opponent, rounding out the rest of the field.
The Hurricanes got off to a fast start but quickly fell behind the Longhorns, who were playing before an overwhelmingly pro-Texas crowd.
Miami, calm and persistent, began creeping back from a 13-point hole with less than 14 minutes left, setting up a furious few minutes when it finally strung together a series of defensive stops and a run of key free throws. Norchad Omier, a sophomore forward, hit two of them when the game was tied with a minute left.
Miami was plodding, eventually mounting a nine-point run when it seemed like the Longhorns would cruise to a home-state advantage in Houston next weekend.
Both teams featured players that typify the mobility and commercialization of modern college basketball. Texas started four transfers, including its hard-charging graduate point guard Marcus Carr.
Miami was led by Jordan Miller, a 6-foot-7 senior who scored 27 points and had a crucial steal with two minutes left. The team was also paced by two guards, Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack, who played in Coral Gables, Florida, this season in part because of lavish name, image and likeness arrangements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Miami had the ball Sunday, it was often held by Pack, who scored 15 points by drifting in and out of scoring lanes, soaring to the hoop for delicate finishes and stepping back for short fadeaways.
San Diego State slips past familiar opponent
In November, when Creighton set out for the Maui Invitational, the Bluejays stopped in San Diego and the next day shared a charter jet to Hawaii with the San Diego State team. Memories of Creighton’s overtime win over San Diego State in the first round of the men’s NCAA Tournament the previous March might have led to some awkward moments.
But the two coaches, Greg McDermott of Creighton and Brian Dutcher of San Diego State, sat across the aisle from each other, poring over film on their laptops, trading scouting reports and ruminating about the possibility of playing each other again in the early-season tournament.
They did not, at least then. And when the teams flew back to San Diego, dropping the Aztecs off, the coaches – and their teams – bid each other adieu.
See you down the road.
That meandering road carried both teams here, to a place they had never been before, a regional championship in which the coaches and players – including two brothers, Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma and San Diego State’s Adam Seiko – marveled at the serendipity of it all.
“I never thought we’d be playing them here or I would have tried to steal a few play calls off his computer,” Dutcher mused.
The next time the two coaches get together, the bounds of fraternity will be tested after San Diego State rallied for a 57-56 victory on Darrion Trammell’s free throw with 1.2 seconds left. The game was so thick with turns and tension that it did not end until well after what turned out to be the final buzzer.
San Diego State, which had only twice before been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, will play ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic, the champion of the East Region, on Saturday in Houston with a berth in the national championship game on the line.
The deciding play came as San Diego State ran the clock down for the final shot.
Trammell drove to the lane with Ryan Nembhard on his right hip and let loose a floater that just grazed the rim as the buzzer sounded. But rising above the cacophony, as Trammell lay on the court, was the whistle of referee Lee Cassell.
Soon, Trammell went to the foul line with the crowd on its feet, four teammates behind him – and the entire Aztecs bench – locking arms. Trammell’s first free throw rolled off the rim, and the crowd’s roar grew even louder.
He took two dribbles and a deep breath and swished the next one.
Trammell, a transfer from Seattle University who scored 21 points to help carry San Diego State to an upset of top-seeded Alabama on Friday, had made only 5 of 14 shot attempts and had not been to the free-throw line until the final second.
When he stepped to the line after missing the first attempt, Trammell said he reminded himself that he had shot 1,000 free throws in the past week and that the moment was not too big for him. “I just had to believe in that,” he said. “Just having that confidence that, yeah, I missed the first one, but I definitely wasn’t going to miss the second one.”
San Diego State, which enjoys a raucous home-court advantage, has been an NCAA Tournament regular out of the Mountain West Conference, but it has been cast in the shadow of Gonzaga and the Pac-12 Conference teams of the moment. Nevertheless, this is a moment that the program has long believed would come.
“You picture the belief when you sleep, you picture the belief when you work out, and you hope that the dream comes true,” said Nathan Mensah, San Diego State’s 6-foot-10 senior center, who contributed eight points, six rebounds and three blocks. “Finally, that dream came true for us.”
The parents of Kaluma and Seiko, along with their two young sisters, sat a few rows up at center court wearing customized white T-shirts with a basketball, both schools’ logos and the names and numbers of the brothers.
When the game was over, their two sons exchanged a hug in the handshake line and Seiko told Kaluma he loved him. In that moment, they also acted as exemplars for their teams, one of which cut down the nets while the other felt like it had its hearts cut out.
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