ALBANY, N.Y. – With Miami’s season on the line, the Hurricanes’ leaders got together and insisted the NCAA Tournament wasn’t going to end with an early loss to a double-digit seed.
Nijel Pack, Wooga Poplar and Norchad Omier made sure the season continued for fifth-seeded Miami.
Pack scored 21 points – including the go-ahead jumper and a pair of free throws in the final minute – to rally the Canes past Drake 63-56 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
“I was like, ‘Man, this can’t be the way how it ends,’” Pack said. “I talked to my teammates. I felt like they felt the same way. We kind of brought some inner energy from within us.”
Miami also picked up its defensive intensity, got a couple of steals, put Drake on its heels and reeled off the final 10 points in an overall 16-1 closing spurt to get past the 12th-seeded Bulldogs (27-8) for the Midwest Region victory.
“It takes a lot to survive, and we fortunately survived today,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, whose team advanced to the Elite Eight last year before losing to eventual national champion Kansas.
Norchad Omier added 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Hurricanes, who won despite being held to a season-low 63 points. Wooga Poplar had 15 points.
Darnell Brodie had 20 points and nine rebounds to lead the Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions. The Bulldogs missed their last seven shots from the field and were scoreless the final 3:24.
“Certainly disappointed, disappointed for our group that we weren’t able to pull that out,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “I thought overall we played a really, really good 35, 37 minutes, and couldn’t quite finish it out.”
Mo Valley Player of the Year Tucker DeVries, whose father is the coach, scored three points on 1 of 13 shooting.
Miami will face the winner of the game between fourth-seeded Indiana (22-11) and 13th seeded Kent State in the second round of the Midwest Region.
Brodie tied the game at 47 with a free throw and then Calhoun hit two consecutive 3-pointers in an 8-0 run that Roman Penn capped with a jumper for a 55-47 lead with 5:40 to go.
Pack started the rally with a jumper and Poplar hit two free throws and a jumper to close the deficit to 55-53 with 3:34 to play.
After Penn scored the Bulldogs final point on a free throw with 3:24 left, Miller hit two free throws and Bensley Joseph made one to tie the contest at 56 with 2:20 to play.
Pack, who was 7 of 15 from the field, put Miami ahead for good with his jumper off a turnover.
Drake: The Bulldogs had this one won until they got ice cold at the end and see potential.
“Coach has built a great program here at Drake,” Penn said. “Us coming here, we just kind of wanted to lay the blueprint down for future Bulldogs hopefully and just hope to continue the tradition and keepon winning and playing hard.
Miami: The Hurricanes looked disconnected offensively all night and they will have to improve to get back to another Elite Eight. Miller and Isaiah Wong, the Canes’ top scorers, combined for 12 points. on 3 of 17 shooting. Miami was saved, making 23 of 29 from the free throw line.