University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes cherish NIT experience despite falling short

Sheldon McClellan #10 of the Miami Hurricanes passes in front of Christian Sanders #1 of the Stanford Cardinal during the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2015 in New York City.
Sheldon McClellan #10 of the Miami Hurricanes passes in front of Christian Sanders #1 of the Stanford Cardinal during the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2015 in New York City. Getty Images

Coach Jim Larrañaga called the experience “rewarding.”

Guard Davon Reed described it as a learning experience on how to play postseason basketball.

And Sheldon McClellan posted on Twitter that the University of Miami men’s basketball team will soon be playing for a championship again, but next time it will be in a different tournament.

“Gave it our all till the end and can only blame ourselves,” McClellan wrote on Twitter early Friday morning. “We will be in the same shoes next year but a different tournament.”

The past six NIT runners-up and seven of the past eight have reached the NCAA Tournament the following season.

After its heartbreaking, 66-64 overtime loss to Stanford on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Hurricanes said collectively the experience of advancing to their first NIT final was beneficial.

“When we started this season, we had nine players who had never worn a Miami uniform before,” Larrañaga said. “They were trying to become one cohesive unit. And we had a lot of adversity with injuries. Eventually, we had everybody, and I thought we played very well for a stretch.

“I thought our guys showed a lot of resiliency and fight in them, and I’m very, very proud of their efforts.”

The Hurricanes arrived home in Coral Gables on Friday morning after concluding a topsy-turvy 25-13 season in which they fell short of being selected to the NCAA Tournament but responded with a thrilling run to the NIT championship game.

With only one player — senior Joe Thomas — expected to come off the roster, UM feels confident its NIT run can springboard it to a potential deep run in the NCAA Tournament next season.

“At the beginning of the season, we set a goal to make it far in the NCAA Tournament,” Reed said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. But as the NIT games went on we really saw that we could win this thing, and everybody bought in.”

Reed and McClellan made the NIT All-Tournament team.

McClellan led the charge to help UM overcome a double-digit deficit for the third consecutive game. But a few plays down the stretch by Stanford’s Chasson Randle spoiled the Canes’ feel-good ending in the NIT.

The Hurricanes learned during the tournament how versatile their roster can be and how much they didn’t need to rely solely on one player at any one position.

Point guard Angel Rodriguez sustained a wrist injury that he re-aggravated in the first game of the NIT. Manu Lecomte filled in adequately until he was hampered by a knee injury. Ja’Quan Newton later tore a ligament in his thumb. By its quarterfinal game against Richmond, UM was asking McClellan to play at the point. McClellan also played some point guard in the semifinals against Temple.

The frontcourt then took a hit on the injury front when center Tonye Jekiri sustained a concussion early in the game against Temple. The Hurricanes were able to turn to freshman Omar Sherman and transfer Ivan Cruz Uceda, who became eligible in January, to pull out a win against the Owls and nearly a championship victory against Stanford.

“It’s all about who gets hot, who makes the plays down the stretch,” Reed said. “The game can change in a millisecond. So whoever comes out and plays the hardest for the longest is pretty much going to win. I think we played our hearts out the whole tournament.”

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