The atmosphere inside famed Madison Square Garden was a different experience for the University of Miami men’s basketball team on Tuesday night.
It didn’t affect the Hurricanes’ ongoing resilience.
Even after losing another key player — center Tonye Jekiri — to injury, the Hurricanes rallied and once again turned in a thrilling NIT performance with a 60-57 semifinal win over Temple.
A stellar defensive effort limited Temple to a horrible shooting performance that culminated with forward Quenton Decosey’s three-point attempt at the final buzzer bouncing off the rim and sending the Hurricanes (25-12) to their first NIT championship game. They will play Stanford (23-13) on Thursday at 9 p.m. for the title.
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“Somehow, some way, these guys find a way to stick together, get some good defensive stops and then we got very good fastbreak opportunities and made some shots in transition,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Playing in their third consecutive game without guard Angel Rodriguez (wrist injury), the Hurricanes lost Jekiri after he was elbowed in the face by a Temple player, forcing him to leave the game for good with 13:51 left in the first half.
Larrañaga said after the game Jekiri had a swollen lip and sustained a concussion, which would keep him out of Thursday’s final.
Miami eventually fell behind by as many as 11 points.
It didn’t matter.
Led by guard Sheldon McClellan’s 12 second-half points, the Hurricanes clawed their way back and took the lead on the second of consecutive three-pointers by McClellan with 7:35 remaining in the game.
“That was a very fast-paced game,” said McClellan, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “In the first half we played kind of passive. We weren’t being as aggressive as we normally are, and in the second half we came out and played more aggressive.”
Canes backup guard Deandre Burnett also came through down the stretch.
Temple cut Miami’s lead to 56-55 with 43.9 seconds remaining when Burnett drove to the basket and hit a high-arching shot off the glass with 35 seconds left to put Miami ahead by three.
“We called a play for Deandre, and we felt like we needed to get something going back to the goal,” Larrañaga said. “It was actually Angel Rodriguez that came to me on the bench and said, ‘Coach, put Dre in he’s ready. He went to the rim and made a big shot.’”
Temple wasn’t anywhere near as sharp.
The Owls (26-11) missed two free throws and two long-distance shots that could have tied the score with over a minute remaining.
UM’s defensive effort hindered Temple throughout the game as the Owls shot only 30 percent (19 of 63). Temple really struggled from three-point range, going 2 for 19 from long distance and missing all 15 three-point attempts in the second half.
“I think most of them were decent looks,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “There was probably two or three that were rushed that we could have maybe shot-faked and gone to the basket, maybe a little drive-and-kick action. There was maybe another possession or two that we needed to make an extra pass, and we did not.”
The Hurricanes, who overcame an 18-point deficit and an 18-point first-half output against Richmond in the NIT quarterfinals, scored only 16 points in the game’s first 16 minutes Tuesday.
Jekiri scored Miami’s first two baskets of the game on good drives to the basket. But after his injury the Hurricanes seemed to be left without a reliable offensive presence in the paint.
That changed gradually thanks to forward Omar Sherman, who entered the game for Jekiri with 13:51 to go in the first half and finished with six points and had three rebounds in 17 minutes. Ivan Cruz Uceda and James Palmer also delivered as Miami outscored Temple 28-24 in the paint despite Jekiri’s absence.
“I thought Omar Sherman came in and gave us a huge lift in the second half,” Larrañaga said. “And we needed Ivan and Omar to kind of take up that slack.”
▪ McClellan was named a finalist Tuesday for the Riley Wallace Award, which is presented annually to the top transfer player in Division I college basketball. McClellan is among 26 finalists for the award, and the winner will be announced at the CollegeInsider.com Awards Banquet on Friday in Indianapolis.