It wasn’t decided until the last minute, but Miami did just enough to scrape by Drake in a thrilling 63-56 win to advance to the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
Facing an eight-point deficit with 5:40 left in the second half, the Hurricanes ended the game on a 16-1 run.
“We’ve been in so many close games throughout the season and that was just one of those nights,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “It takes a total team effort to win like that.”
Guard Nijel Pack knocked down the shot that gave Miami a 58-56 lead with 51.8 seconds remaining. This last-minute basket stamped what was an unforgettable tournament debut from the Kansas State transfer.
Pack finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He also helped spearhead Miami’s defense, which forced Drake to miss its last seven field goals.
“We went to the last media timeout, and I was like, man, this can’t be the way how it ends. I talked to my teammates. I felt like they felt the same way,” Pack said. “We kind of brought some inner energy from within us. We picked up our defensive pressure.”
Miami’s offense started slowly, turning the ball over four times and failing to score a field goal in the game’s first 6:56. UM’s first basket came on a tip-in from forward Norchad Omier, whose availability in the days leading up to the game was uncertain.
The sophomore forward suffered a right ankle injury in the Hurricanes’ ACC semifinals loss to Duke on March 10. He missed the remainder of that game and was labeled as day-to-day by head coach Jim Larrañaga before Omier was made available 45 minutes before tip-off.
“It was up to my coaches and athletic trainers, doctors that helped me,” Omier said. “We have spent endless hours in the training room getting treatment. I wanted to help my teammates. They come out here, work hard. I just wanted to be there, support them, and have their back.”
Pack and sophomore guard Wooga Poplar kept UM (26-7) afloat in an underwhelming first half offensively, scoring 19 of Miami’s 25 points. The Hurricanes trailed, 30-25, entering the break. Veterans Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, Miami’s leaders in points per game this year, combined for just one point in the first half.
Poplar ended with 15 points and connected on three of his six attempts from deep.
“It was basically just my teammates,” Poplar said. “My teammates just give me the confidence to shoot the ball.”
The Bulldogs (27-8) were paced by sixth-year senior Roman Penn, who had 11 points and dished out a game-high seven assists. Forward Darnell Brodie anchored the paint for Drake, finishing with a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds.
“Just this whole season has been a crazy season,” Brodie said. “We came a long way, and we worked hard to be here.”
Drake caps off its season as winners of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and is expected to welcome back Tucker DeVries, who was the MVC Player of the Year in his sophomore campaign.
Miami will play on Sunday against the winner of the first-round matchup between Indiana and Kent State for a chance to advance for a second-straight Sweet 16.
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