Sheldon McClellan knew it was necessary.
The mostly pro-University of Miami crowd that rocked Madison Square Garden for most of Thursday night’s NIT championship game knew.
Even pro football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin knew when he gave the Hurricanes one of his signature motivational speeches.
McClellan and the Hurricanes delivered the gutsy performance it needed.
But Stanford and its own star Chasson Randle broke Miami’s hearts right at the finish line.
Randle drew a foul from McClellan on a potential game-winning shot and subsequently made two free throws with 3.4 seconds left in overtime. A turnover by the Hurricanes on the ensuing inbounds pass helped seal a crushing 66-64 defeat for Miami in the NIT final.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game, but unfortunately we fell one score short,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I told my kids I am very proud of them.”
UM (25-13), which was attempting to win its first NIT championship, had one final chance after a full-court pass went out of bounds and was ruled to have been touched by a Stanford player.
Deandre Burnett found McClellan for one final desperation three-point shot at the buzzer.
It bounced off the side of the rim.
Randle finished with a game-high 25 points
McClellan, who did not score in the first half, finished with a team-high 17 points and sparked another UM double-digit second-half comeback — something that had become seemingly a routine during the NIT.
“We seemed to be feeling more of a sense of urgency in the second half and put ourselves in position to win the game,” Larrañaga said. “Randle was outstanding and he made all the plays for them.”
The Hurricanes erased double-digit deficits against Temple in the semifinals and Richmond in the quarterfinal round and also came back against Alabama in the second round.
The closing moments of regulation and later overtime turned into a duel between McClellan and Randle.
With two minutes left in overtime, McClellan’s cross-over dribble freed him to drive to the basket and give Miami a 62-61 lead.
On UM’s next possession, McClellan delivered a perfect pass to Davon Reed, who drove and scored to put the Hurricanes ahead 64-61 with 48 seconds left.
Including his go-ahead free throws, Randle also drew an earlier foul that helped Stanford score the game’s final five points.
In regulation, Randle twice gave Stanford the lead by two points.
Twice McClellan answered by making a pair of free throws to tie the score, first at 57 and later at 59.
Limping to the finish line of the NIT with two starters out with injuries, the Hurricanes started freshman Omar Sherman in place of regular starting center Tonye Jekiri, who was ruled out because of a concussion he sustained in Tuesday’s semifinal against Temple.
Jekiri’s absence was felt mostly in the first half when Stanford dominated in the paint outscoring UM 20-8. Stanford also outrebounded UM 23-15 during that span.
The Cardinal led by as many as 13 early in the second half before UM clawed its way back into the game.
Sherman finished with eight points and played well down the stretch making two free throws with 3:27 remaining to tie the game at 53.
The Hurricanes’ rally seemed to gain momentum after McClellan soared through the air and dunked the basketball bringing the crowd at Madison Square Garden to its feet.
It seemed like the type of momentum-swinging play the Hurricanes made multiple times during the NIT that led to victories.
But It wasn’t to be.
“Honestly our team wasn’t even willing to play in the NIT,” Reed said. “But as the games went on we knew we could win this thing. We know what it feels like to play in the postseason now and I think we took a step in the right direction for next season.”