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Finally in the Spotlight: Miami Hurricanes Advance to First-Ever Final Four

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Photo Credit: Miami Athletics

The roars of the Texas-heavy crowd at T-Mobile Center echoed throughout much of the game. Similarly to Miami’s men’s basketball program throughout much of its 61-year history, Hurricanes fans were overlooked and outnumbered.

But when the clock began counting down to its final seconds, this faithful fanbase blared out its chant, “it’s great to be a Miami Hurricane,” which was heard around the 18,500-seat stadium.

And when the buzzer sounded, the Miami Hurricanes had done the unthinkable. They were now in the spotlight and advancing to their first Final Four in program history.

Miami’s 88-81 win over Texas, like many UM wins this season, was decided late.

The Hurricanes trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, with key contributors Norchad Omier and Jordan Miller dealing with foul trouble.

They “persevered,” as Miller said, and chipped away at Texas’ lead, tying the score at 75 apiece with just under five minutes remaining in the game.

At this point, fans in attendance and those viewing at home were nervously watching at the edge of their seats.

But not Jim Larrañaga.

“When it got to be 75-75, we’ve been in so many close games this year, I felt very comfortable and confident these guys will pull us through,” the UM head coach said.

Miami ended the game on a 13-6 run. Miller hit the game-winning free throws with a minute left, giving the Hurricanes the lead. 

He again hit the four final free throws of the game, cementing the Hurricanes’ win and booking their flight to Houston for the NCAA semifinals.

The fifth-year senior was a key member of last season’s UM team that lost in the Elite Eight to Kansas. This loss stuck with Miller, who played the game of his life in hopes of redemption. Miller ended with a game-high 27 points, shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from the field and 13-of-13 from the charity stripe.

“That loss sat with me for a really, really long time. I had to put it in the past because it was a new season, but like I said, having the opportunity to kind of right your wrongs almost and get past something that stumped you previously is a great feeling,” Miller said. “What I’m most proud of is the will and the togetherness of this team … “We just all bought into staying together, keeping that hope alive. And the way we just willed this one through, I think everybody played really well, and I think it really shows the poise of this squad.”

While this game was a chance to right wrongs for Miller, Isaiah Wong, Wooga Poplar and Miami’s other returning players, first-year transfers Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier had never experienced a game like this before.

Both players played in their first Elite Eights, and both Pack and Omier were pivotal in the Hurricanes’ win. Pack had 15 points. Norchad had 11, along with a game-high nine rebounds.

This win meant so much to Omier, who embarked on an extraordinary path to college basketball stardom.

“There’s so much emotions right now … I’m a kid from Nicaragua that didn’t even play basketball,” said Omier, the first-ever Nicaraguan-born Division I basketball player. “My journey, doing this with my brothers, it just feels really good. I really can’t explain how happy I am right now.”

Pack, who missed out on the tournament in his previous two seasons, said the Elite Eight experience was “unreal.”

“To come back from that deficit, especially some people were starting to doubt, could we come back? How hard we fought to get back in this game and to come back and actually win this game, especially on a stage like this, it was an amazing feeling I can’t even put into words,” Pack said. “I know for me and Norchad being transfers and this is our first time in the NCAA Tournament, this is something unreal. To be with this great group of guys, our coaching staff being great, and being able to make it to the Final Four on your first time making it to the NCAA Tournament, it’s like I don’t know what to say. I’m loving the experience so far, but we’ve still got more work to do.”

Miami will play UConn on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. for a chance at making even more history.

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