Miami’s historic March Madness run came to an end Sunday at the United Center while Kansas danced on to the Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.
The Jayhawks were down six at the half, but outscored the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half to win 76-50 and join Duke and Villanova in the Final Four.
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga and Kansas head coach Bill Self agreed on one thing in their postgame press conferences – “tale of two halves.”
“Kansas came out in the second half and really hit us with a knockout punch. I don't know what the run was, but we were never able to answer their scoring runs,” Larranaga said. “…So the tale of two halves. We did a great job in the first half, and they did an even better job in the second half.”
Kansas was the first to get on the board, immediately looking to capitalize on their height advantage with David McCormack inside.
Miami’s Charlie Moore, 11 inches shorter than McCormack, was unfazed, taking it to the rim in two of the first four possessions. Moore continued to run the Miami offense until his teammate Kameron McGusty got on the board at the 15:37 mark with a pull-up jumper and two free throws to the boos of the Kansas end zone.
McGusty, who had 27 points against Iowa State on Friday, then took over the next 10 minutes, accounting for ten of his team’s 15 points. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks continued to look inside, with McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot combining for eight of the team’s 12 points.
McGusty’s run couldn’t have come at a better time as Moore and Jordan Miller each picked up a pair of fouls, forcing Miami head coach Jim Larranaga to go to his bench, which up until this point had struggled to deliver on the offensive end. The Miami bench combined for 25 first-half minutes on Sunday, eight more than they recorded in the entire Sweet 16 matchup against Iowa State.
Kansas’s Remy Martin, who came off the bench to lead his team in scoring through three games in the tournament, eventually got involved when Miami was called for goaltending. Martin added two more jumpers in the final five minutes of the half, prompting Larranaga to take a timeout.
Out of the break, McGusty once again stepped up, laying it off the glass for his 14th point of the night.
Up four with a minute left in the first half, Miami continued to hit the gas pedal. This time, Isaiah Wong ran the length of the court, taking on three Jayhawk defenders to give Miami a six-point lead with 39 seconds remaining. Martin tried to mount a response on the next possession, but the ball went off his knee and out of bounds, giving Miami one last possession with the shot clock turned off.
The ball once again found its way into McGusty’s hands, but he was unable to collect it and ultimately had his shot blocked. He led all scorers at the half with 14 points as Miami returned to the locker room up 35-29.
The halftime proved crucial for Kansas as they regrouped and rededicated themselves, according to guard Ochai Agbaji.
“We didn't come this far to lay down or give up at this point,” he said following the game. “So just going out there and playing our style of basketball.”
In their first time down the court out of halftime, Kansas immediately went to McCormack, who backed down the Miami defense in the paint and drew the foul. While he split the free throws, it was Miller’s third foul of the afternoon, sending the Hurricane’s fourth-leading scorer to the bench in the opening minutes of the half and forcing Larranaga to once again turn to his reserves.
“I think it was a big momentum changer, just getting an and-1 basket and trying to get them in foul trouble as well, that changes the momentum and how they would need to guard us,” McCormack said of the series. “I don't know what it cut the lead to at that point, but I just know it pumped energy into the bench and everyone on the court which makes us guard better, move faster. It just helped the team all around.”
McCormack continued his efficient performance with another step-back shot in the paint. He finished with 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting.
Miami tried to match the Jayhawks’ offensive attack but within four minutes of the second half, suddenly found themselves tied up at 40 apiece behind a two-handed dunk from Christian Braun. Braun continued to bring the heat, rising for a 3-pointer the next time down the court to give Kansas its first lead of the half and force Larranaga to use another timeout.
“I think we needed some energy more than anything,” Braun said. “When I hit that 3 it was a big confidence booster for me and I'm sure for the rest of the team.”
The timeout did little to stop the Jayhawks’ momentum.
Kansas capitalized on back-to-back turnovers with a lay in by Agbaji and an and-1 by McCormack. This opened up the largest lead of the afternoon at eight.
Larranaga said his team struggled to stick to their identity.
“And I use the expression, ‘don't play the score, play the game.’ But we started playing the score,” he said. “We looked up at the scoreboard, and we had fallen behind already. And I think that created some anxiety. And what ends up happening then is instead of settling down and executing better, we started to rush it even more. And that led to a lot of run-outs and fouls.”
The Hurricanes finally stopped the bleeding when guard Bensley Joseph got out in transition and found a slashing McGusty to cut the deficit to six and end the Jayhawks’ 10-0 run.
Whatever momentum the Hurricanes were trying to build, however, came to a halt as the foul troubles continued to pile up.
Sam Waardenburg was called for back-to-back fouls – one on each end of the court – bringing his total to four and sending him to the bench with 11:37 remaining. Meanwhile, Miller had reentered the game at the 14:21 mark but remained scoreless and continued to struggle on the offensive side of the ball.
McGusty had two good looks – one from three and one driving down the baseline through contact – to get the Hurricanes back on a run, but he couldn’t finish and Agbaji made him pay, hitting a corner 3-pointer to give Kansas its first double-digit lead of the day.
“They did a good job in the second half kind of adjusting the way they were guarding me,” McGusty said. “They tried to deny me. It almost was like a box and one, but they were just denying me, not letting me catch. Not letting me get any clean looks. Credit to them, they came out with a great game plan the second half.”
With just over nine minutes left, Miller got his first basket on a layup, breaking a four-minute scoring drought for the Hurricanes. That excitement was short-lived as Martin hit a 3 of his own to the dismay of the Miami fans.
Waardenburg reentered the game at the 10:14 mark, but his return was short-lived as he was called for his fifth foul on Braun during a 3-point attempt. Braun hit two of his three free throws and sent Waardenburg to the bench, leaving the already undersized Hurricanes without their tallest defender with over eight minutes to play.
After shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc in the first half, Miami went cold in the second half, missing all 13 long-range attempts, seven of which came in the final six-and-a-half minutes of play.
With over five minutes left, Larranaga used his last timeout as Miami suddenly found themselves down 19 and with few options to turn to. The Hurricanes continued to try to connect from long range and the Jayhawks made them pay, gathering the misses and getting out in transition.
A microcosm of the second half for both teams, Miller fouled out with 2:40 remaining only for Agbaji to come down and hit a 3-pointer before turning to the Kansas fans to indicate the outcome – game over.
Kansas outscored Miami 47-15 in the second half.
This was the first ever Elite Eight appearance for Miami. Larranaga, who just capped his 11th season with the Hurricanes, came from George Mason, where he led them to a Final Four appearance in 2006.
“I told the players afterwards -- and I really mean it -- they accomplished so much, not just in basketball, but they ignited a community,” Larranaga said. “We had so much support throughout the season and especially in the NCAA Tournament. And I think generating that kind of enthusiasm for the University of Miami in a basketball program that you have to remember didn't even exist from 1972 to 1985.”
McGusty echoed this sentiment, referencing how far the team came after several bad losses early in the season.
“I'm proud of our togetherness and how far we came. Looking back at our tournament in Orlando, [lost to UCF.] we could have easily went our separate ways. Been mad at each other, argue, complain, but instead we grew from that,” he said. “… I'm so proud of the fight we've had. We had so many games where we were down by 15, 20 points with less than six, seven minutes left and we come back and win.”
McGusty was named to the Midwest All-Region team along with Providence’s Al Durham. Meanwhile, McCormack and Braun were honored for the Jayhawks and Martin was named Most Outstanding Player in the Midwest region.
Martin missed nearly the entire month of February with a knee injury, but has since taken college basketball by storm.
“I think our guys have more of a swagger now knowing what Remy can do to make us better,” Self said of the shift since Martin rejoined the lineup.
The Jayhawks next text will come Saturday against No. 2 Villanova in the Final Four.