Miami, Xavier looking to refocus after narrow escapes in Round 1 | News, Sports, Jobs
By STEVE REED AP sportswriter
GREENSBORO, NC (AP) — If Miami’s Jim Larrañaga and Xavier’s Sean Miller didn’t have the full attention of their players going into the NCAA tournament, they now have it.
Larrañaga’s Hurricanes and Miller’s Musketeers both needed big first-round comebacks in the second half against lower-seeded opponents.
Now, as teams move through March Madness, the veteran coaches hope players realize the importance of valuing every possession on both ends of the floor and avoiding lapses in concentration that can lead to an opponent running.
“You can just tell we’re here and these teams are trying to win just as badly as we are and we have to do our best every night,” said Xavier striker Jerome Hunter.
Miami was eight points behind 12th seed Drake at 5-40 in the Midwest Region first round but rebounded 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 openers Kennesaw State, the 14th seed, after fighting back from 13 points behind with 9 1/2 minutes left. The Musketeers needed a game-saving block from 7-foot center Jack Nunge in the dying seconds to progress.
“I feel like the last 15 minutes really woke us up,” said Xavier’s Colby Jones. “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 in the Big East tournament and needed a rally to beat DePaul in the quarterfinals. Xavier defeated Creighton in the semifinals before losing to Marquette in the title game.
Xavier meets another angry team who have already won two tournament games in 11th-placed Pittsburgh. The Panthers beat Mississippi State in the First Four before beating sixth-seeded Iowa State 59-41.
“My hope against Pitt is that we can be better and more consistent from start to finish,” Miller said.
Fifth-seeded Miami (26-7) meets Indiana (23-11) in Albany, New York on Sunday after the fourth-seeded Hoosiers defeated Kent State 71-60 behind a tremendous play by All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Larrañaga said he preached to his players that anyone can beat anyone – a point driven home as his team watched 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson beat No. 1-seeded Purdue.
“I told them that all these games are tight, every team is really good,” said Larrañaga. “You looked at all the results. You see what the FDU and (Florida Atlantic) did and what Furman did to Virginia. These crazy things happen, but they happen because the games are so competitive.
“The game is tight and every possession has a lot of value. You have to play great defense and great offense to end a really tight game,” he added.
HOOD-SCHIFINO GROWING UP
Indiana coach Mike Woodson went into the season hoping to combine present and future for the Hoosiers at the point guard position.
Senior Xavier Johnson and freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino would start and the veteran would teach the rookie how to play the point, either by spectating or taking turns. It worked for 11 games until Johnson suffered a foot injury that required surgery, ending his season.
Hood-Schifino inherited the place.
Not only has Hood-Schifino survived in the tough Big Ten Conference, he’s troubled his opponents alongside Jackson-Davis, Miller Kopp and Race Thompson.
Conference Freshman of the Year Hood-Schifino averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“Basically, we threw Jalen to the wolves, and he sort of handled 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 freshman season.
Miller will face his alma mater with a berth from Sweet 16.
Miller spent four years as Pitt’s starting point guard, assisting with the memorable “Send it in, Jerome!” dunk — a powerful one-handed slam by Jerome Lane that smashed the backboard in a game against Providence.
Miller said as great as his memories are of playing for Pitt and growing up in Pennsylvania, he wants them to stay that way. That’s why he never considered taking a head coaching job 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 it’s all the better because in a way I want my memories of Pitt to be there when I was there as a student, as a player. … I think it’s easier that way.”
This won’t be the first time Miller has faced Pitt in the NCAA tournament.
During his first coaching stint with Xavier, the Musketeers lost to the top-seeded Panthers in the 2009 regional semifinals. Xavier avenged that loss the following season with a second-round win, but Miller switched to coaching in Arizona. He returned to Xavier last offseason.
WHO IS THE FIVE?
The country gets a glimpse of Pitt’s literal “Twin Towers,” newcomers Guillermo and Jorge Diaz Graham. The wiry 7-foot centers from Spain are identical twins and would be almost indistinguishable on the pitch without their jersey numbers.
In fact, Pitt coach Jeff Capel is still having trouble figuring out who’s who.
“To be honest, I can’t tell them apart,” Capel said. “In practice, one wears yellow shoes, one white. Off the pitch, Guillermo has an earring while Jorge does not. And that’s the only way I can tell them apart.”
Teammates also have a hard time.
“First it took us some time to figure out which was which,” said Pitt guard Jamarius Burton. “As we got to know her and got closer to her, we were able to pick her apart.”
AP sportswriter Tom Canavan, from Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
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