Miami, Xavier seeks to refocus after narrow escapes in the 1st round | News, Sports, Jobs
By STEVE REED AP Sportswriter
GREENSBORO, NC (AP) — If Miami’s Jim Larrañaga and Xavier’s Sean Miller didn’t have their players’ full attention before the NCAA Tournament, they do now.
Both Larrañaga’s Hurricanes and Miller’s Musketeers needed huge second-half comebacks against lower-ranked opponents in the first round.
Now, as teams progress through March Madness, veteran coaches hope players realize the importance of cherishing every possession at both ends of the pitch and avoiding the lapses in focus that can lead to an opponent’s run.
“You just realized that we’re here and these teams are trying to win as badly as we are, and we have to play our best every night,” Xavier striker Jerome Hunter said.
Miami trailed 12th-seeded Drake by eight points with 5:40 remaining in the Midwest Region first round, but rallied and finished the game on a 19-1 run behind 21 points from Nijel Pack to win 53-46.
Likewise, third-seeded Xavier survived a scare from tournament debutant Kennesaw State, the 14th seed, after battling 13 points with 9 1/2 minutes left. The Musketeers needed a saving block from 7-foot center Jack Nunge in the dying seconds to advance.
“I feel like the last 15 minutes really woke us up,” Xavier’s Colby Jones said. “And that’s what we talked about, that’s how we have to play the rest of the tournament.”
The Musketeers went through a similar scenario at the Big East Tournament, needing a rally to beat DePaul in the quarterfinals. Xavier defeated Creighton in the semifinals before losing in the title match to Marquette.
Xavier meets another upset team in 11th-seeded Pittsburgh, who have already won two tournament games. The Panthers beat Mississippi State in the top four before shutting out No. 6 seed Iowa State 59-41.
“My hope is against Pitt that we can be better and we can be more consistent from start to finish,” Miller said.
Fifth-seeded Miami (26-7) takes on Indiana (23-11) on Sunday in Albany, New York, after fourth-seeded Hoosiers beat Kent State 71-60 behind a huge All-American Trayce game Jackson Davis.
Larrañaga said he preached to his players that anyone could beat anyone – a point brought home when his team saw 16th seed Fairleigh Dickinson eliminate No. 1 seed Purdue .
“I told them all these games are tight, every team is really good,” Larrañaga said. “They checked all the scores. You see what FDU did and (Florida Atlantic) did, and what Furman did in Virginia. These crazy things happen, but they happen because the games are so closely contested.
“The game is close and every possession has a lot of value. You have to play great defense and great attack to finish a very tight game,” he added.
Indiana coach Mike Woodson entered the season hoping to combine the Hoosiers’ present and future at point guard.
Senior Xavier Johnson and freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino would start and the veteran would teach the rookie how to play the point, either looking or alternating. It worked for 11 games until Johnson suffered a foot injury that required surgery, ending his season.
Hood-Schifino inherited the place.
Not only did Hood-Schifino survive the tough Big Ten conference, but he gave his haters another worry alongside Jackson-Davis, Miller Kopp and Race Thompson.
In Conference of the Year freshman, Hood-Schifino averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“We basically threw Jalen to the wolves, and he got away with it, man,” Woodson said. “I mean, he was ready. He’s had his ups and downs, man, but for the most part we’re sitting here playing Miami because Jalen Hood-Schifino had a good first season.
Miller will face his alma mater with a Sweet 16 spot on the line.
Miller spent four years as Pitt’s starting point guard and participated in the memorable “Send it, Jerome!” dunk – a powerful one-handed slam from Jerome Lane who broke the backboard in a match against Providence.
Miller said that as good as his memories are of playing for Pitt and growing up in Pennsylvania, he would like them to stay that way. That’s why he never considered becoming a head coach at Pitt, even though he spent a season there as an assistant 27 years ago.
“It never worked out,” Miller said. “I think for me that’s all the better because in a way I want my memories of Pitt to be when I was there as a student, as a player. … I think it’s easier that way.
This won’t be Miller’s first time facing Pitt in the NCAA Tournament.
During his first stint as coach with Xavier, the Musketeers lost to the top-seeded Panthers in the 2009 regional semi-finals. Xavier avenged that loss the following season with a second-round win, but Miller had become coach in Arizona. He returned to Xavier last offseason.
WHO IS THE FIVE?
The country is looking at the “twin towers” of Pitt, freshmen Guillermo and Jorge Diaz Graham. Spain’s 7ft powerhouses are identical twins and would be nearly indistinguishable on the pitch if it weren’t for their shirt numbers.
In fact, Pitt’s trainer Jeff Capel is still struggling to figure out who is who.
“To be honest with you, I can’t tell them apart,” Capel said. “In practice, one of them wears yellow shoes, the other wears white shoes. Off the pitch, Guillermo has an earring, not Jorge. And that’s the only way for me to tell them apart.
Even teammates struggle.
“At first it took us a while to figure out which was which,” Pitt goalkeeper Jamarius Burton said. “As we got to know them and get to know them more, we were able to tell them apart.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
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