University of Miami

UM Hurricanes must adjust lineup again for NIT championship game after losing Tonye Jekiri

The Hurricanes will play Thursday night’s NIT championship game against Stanford without guard Angel Rodriguez (wrist) and center Tonye Jekiri (concussion).
The Hurricanes will play Thursday night’s NIT championship game against Stanford without guard Angel Rodriguez (wrist) and center Tonye Jekiri (concussion). El Nuevo Herald

The Hurricanes haven’t gone to see a Broadway show or walked around Times Square this week.

According to University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larrañaga, the team hasn’t had time.

“Our players have really only had time to stay in and get treatments,” Larrañaga said. “Our trainers have been kept very busy. It’s been a challenging two or three weeks ever since the injury bug started to really hit us. There’s no time for anything other than basically resting these guys and preparing for the games.”

The good news for the Hurricanes (25-12) is they are one victory away from winning the school’s first NIT championship.

The bad news is they’ll have to do a little more adjusting to their lineup to make that happen when they face Stanford (23-13), a two-time NIT champ, at 9 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

“Right now, we’re going to have a practice and I have to figure out who will get hurt today,” Larrañaga joked while speaking to reporters via teleconference Wednesday morning.

Already without point guard Angel Rodriguez (wrist) since the start of the NIT, the Hurricanes lost starting center Tonye Jekiri in the first half of Tuesday’s win over Temple when he was accidentally elbowed in the face by Owls forward Quenton Decosey. Jekiri sustained a concussion that will keep him out of Thursday’s final.

In his absence though, younger players such as freshman Omar Sherman, who might start against Stanford, filled in admirably to help UM overcome adversity again.

The Canes have also continued to rotate players at the point guard position, but Manu Lecomte has been hampered by a sprained right knee and Ja’Quan Newton has played despite a torn ligament in his thumb.

Freshman guard Deandre Burnett played at the point Tuesday and gave the Canes a lift off the bench with a three-pointer during Miami’s comeback from an 11-point deficit, and later a driving bank shot that helped the Canes hang on. And freshman James Palmer’s thunderous two-handed dunk was one of the top plays on that night’s ESPN SportsCenter’s top plays.

Five UM players have averaged more than eight points per game during the team’s four NIT games — Sheldon McClellan (12.3), Lecomte (10.0), Davon Reed (9.5), Burnett (9.0) and Jekiri (8.0).

McClellan only started playing point guard in the quarterfinal round against Richmond. He filled in again in that role Tuesday and scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.

“At one point [Tuesday] for an extended period, we had four freshmen on the court together,” Larrañaga said. “They played together in the first half, and that group wasn’t nearly as aggressive as they were in the second half.”

In contrast to Miami’s depth, Stanford relies mostly on its starters for production, with only six players averaging more than 11.5 minutes per game.

Senior guard Chasson Randle, Stanford’s all-time leading scorer as of Tuesday night, is averaging 19.3 points per game and is one of the most explosive players in the country.

“I would compare him to some of the best guards in the country, much like Notre Dame guards Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant,” Larrañaga said. “He’s at that level and a big shot maker and a big shot creator for his teammates.”

Thursday: UM men vs. Stanford

What: NIT championship game.

When, where: 9 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York.

TV, radio: ESPN; WQAM 560, WINZ 940, WVUM 90.5 FM.

Seeds, records: No. 2 Miami 25-12; No. 2 Stanford 23-13.

Noteworthy: After another comeback victory, the Hurricanes are in position to win their first NIT championship. Miami’s lineup had another setback after losing starting center Tonye Jekiri, who sustained a concussion in Tuesday’s semifinal win against Temple. … UM and Stanford have split their all-time series 1-1, but have not played since 1989. … The Cardinal has won the NIT twice (1991, 2012).

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