GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Miami showed there’s still a place for old-school basketball played by experienced players — and for the Hurricanes, that’s in the Sweet 16.
The 10th-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) used a second-half surge and neutralized No. 2 seeded Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in a 79-61 victory for their first trip to a regional semifinal in six years.READ MORE: Man's Remains Found In Shallow Grave Behind Miami Gardens Home, Woman Arrested
Auburn leaned heavily on the 6-foot-10 Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, and 7-1 Kessler, the nation’s blocked shots leader, on the way to an SEC title and what figured to be a deep run in the Midwest Region.
Instead, it was Miami’s smaller, older, savvier lineup that dominated.
“Being small,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said, “has its advantages.”
Especially when the group included sixth-year “super seniors” in Charlie Moore and Kameron McGusty, and fearless sophomore Isaiah Wong, who are all 6-5 or shorter.
Wong had a game-high 21 points, McGusty scored 20 and Moore had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
“We just had a great night tonight,” said Sam Waardenburg, at 6-10, the tallest player in Miami’s regular rotation. “It’s what we can do every night.”
Miami advanced to the round of 16 for the fourth time overall and third time in Larranaga’s 10 seasons. The Hurricanes will head to Chicago to take on No. 11 seed Iowa State in a matchup surely no one saw coming.
“This is a dream come true for every kid growing up, you watch these college games in March all day,” McGusty said. “You just dream of making a run in the tournament and this is the start to our run.”
Auburn’s run ended in unbelievable fashion as its frontcourt of future NBA big men — both Smith and Kessler are projected first-rounders — were largely ineffective against Miami’s relentless pressure.READ MORE: Surfside Condo Collapse: Former Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey Confident Everything Was Done By Rescuers To Save Lives
Smith struggled to make shots, finishing 3 of 16 for 10 points — and got dunked on by the 6-3 Wong two days after Smith’s one-handed jam in the opening round win over Jacksonville State was the talk of the tournament.
Kessler picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening half on the bench. He, too, couldn’t find his touch and missed all six of his attempts and tied his season low of two points after finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against Jacksonville State.
“They just sent somebody anytime I tried to attack or make a move,” Smith said. “They just kept bodies on me.”
The Tigers never held the lead, yet were only down 33-32 at the half.
But the Hurricanes opened the second half with a 15-7 burst off four points apiece by Wong and McGusty. By the time Moore hit a 3-pointer, the score was 48-39 and the raucous Auburn crowd at the start was quiet.
“In the second half, we were everywhere,” Larranaga said with pride.
The Tigers had no answers down the stretch, losing in the NCAA’s second round for the second time in their three tournament appearances under coach Bruce Pearl.
Jaylin Williams and K.D. Johnson led Auburn with 12 points each. Smith had a game-high 15 rebounds.
“It’s the first time that we got it handed to us,” Pearl said. “We didn’t know how to respond.”MORE NEWS: Miami-Dade Commissioners Propose Safety Measures After Tragedy On Rickenbacker Causeway
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