A day before the school’s third Sweet 16 appearance, Miami forward Kamari Murphy spoke about the differences he saw between his team and Villanova.
“I think our style of play is just very different from theirs,” Murphy said. “We have an inside presence. They really don’t. They have maybe one.”
Perhaps Murphy underestimated that one inside presence.
Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu outplayed Miami’s front line as the Hurricanes’ interior presence never materialized in Thursday’s 92-69 loss in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.
Murphy and senior center Tonye Jekiri combined for just eight points and seven rebounds and both fouled out. Ochefu finished with 17 points in a guard-dominated game for both sides.
“We didn’t involve our bigs how we should have,” guard Angel Rodriguez said. “We didn’t do a lot of things like we should have, period.”
Thursday marked just the second time fouling out this season for both Murphy and Jekiri. They both fouled out in the 88-82 ACC tournament win against Virginia Tech on March 10.
“We’re a team that really prides itself on not fouling,” Larrañaga said. “Tonye Jekiri rarely fouls. We’re in the top 20 of not putting people on the foul line. To Villanova’s credit, their skill level is so high they have the ability to create contact when you think you’re in great defensive position.”
Jekiri, the only player remaining from Miami’s 2013 team that made the Sweet 16, battled foul trouble for the second time in three games this NCAA tournament after playing just 16 minutes in the opener against Buffalo.
He picked up two fouls in a 15-second span after halftime, sending him to the bench with 18:40 to play with three personals.
Larrañaga trusted his rim protector and best rebounder though, reinserting him with 13:45 remaining. Just nine seconds later Jekiri was called for holding Kris Jenkins coming off a screen and he returned to the bench with his fourth foul.
With Jekiri limited, Miami was forced into unsure options. 6-foot-7 freshman guard Anthony Lawrence Jr. played 17 minutes, a number coming in the post, and freshman center Ebuka Izundu was forced into action. Izundu had not seen tournament action and had only played in one game in the last eight, logging 3 minutes against Virginia Tech in the regular season finale on March 5.
“Our game plan was just not what we wanted to do because of guys being in foul problems,” said Jekiri, the ACC’s leading rebounder a year ago. “It’s just so difficult, seeing that you can’t be out there with the other guys, playing in this great arena and this great tournament.”
Jekiri went to the bench for the final time in his career with 2:24 remaining and the outcome decided. He bit on a Darryl Reynolds shot fake, allowing Reynolds to get an offensive rebound and draw Jekiri’s fifth foul. He finished with two points and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
The Hurricanes’ post play wasn’t much of a factor in any of their three tournament games. Miami guards scored 58 of the 65 points in Sunday’s win against Wichita State and the Hurricanes had zero second-chance points. Jekiri scored four points in the first round and three against Wichita State.
Villanova outrebounded the Hurricanes 27-17 and had 14 second-chance points compared to Miami’s nine.
“We never pictured it to end this way,” Jekiri, one of four seniors, said.