The home court proved to be advantageous for Miami as they defeated the University of Alabama 73-66 Saturday afternoon at the BankUnited Center. Miami (23-12) will advance to the semifinals of the NIT and face the winner of the Richmond-Arizona State game on Tuesday night.
Miami was led by Manu Lecomte who had 17 points and Davon Reed added 14. Deandre Burnette had 13 points off the bench. Rodney Cooper of Alabama led all scorers with 20 points in the loss. Levi Randolph chipped in with 15 points.
The Crimson Tide end their disappointing season at 19-15.
"We are in the state of mind that it is survive and advance," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said after the game. "When we rebound and play good defense, we are awfully tough to beat."
Alabama led at halftime 34-30 and battled back from an early nine-point deficit. The Crimson Tide switched from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone in the latter stages of the half that seemed to give Miami fits. The Canes missed easy shots in the paint on their last five trips down the floor in the first half. Miami went the final 6:16 without hitting a field goal.
The game featured big man Tonye Jekiri hitting his first-ever three point field goal. The ball bounced around the rim and finally dropped in.
"At our last practice, I was talking to the ESPN commentators and Tonye was launching threes with Manu," Larranaga said. "His jump shot has been very consistent all year. If he wants to shoot that next season, he is going to have to compete with Manu."
The Crimson Tide started the second half with two baskets from Rodney Cooper and played tenacious defense and opened up a five-point lead. Continuing from a pressure-packed end of the first half, they kept Miami off the scoreboard and Miami went almost nine minutes without a basket. They missed 11 consecutive shots.
Miami then got their offense back on track and Lecomte hit a three-point field goal to put Miami three. He then had a transition basket with 14:43 remaining to bring the Canes within one at 39-38. Ivan Cruz Uceda then hit a three of his own to give Miami a one-point lead.
Lecomte was facing fellow Belgian point guard Retin Obasohan. It was the first time that the two, who grew up together, played against one another. Growing up they were always on the same team.
"He is like a brother to me. I wanted to show him what I could do and what I learned," Lecomte said. "I just kept playing aggressive and doing that coach told me to do."
Larranaga then chimed in and said that when Obasohan calls home next time, he is going to say that Manu played very well.
Burnette, a redshirt freshman, then hit back-to-back corner threes to give Miami a four-point lead. That would start a 17-2 run for Miami that saw them lead 62-49 with 4:36 to play in the game. The Tide went 1-for-16 in the second half from the floor once Miami started with their run.
"We were getting the shots that we wanted to get, but they just were not falling," Cooper said after the game. "We did everything that we had to do except get the ball in the basket."
Retin Obasohan had the final two baskets of the half to close out a 16-3 run that put the Tide in the driver’s seat at the half. Obasohan, who came into the game averaging a mere points a contest, scored 11 in the first half for Alabama and lead all scorers. He would not score in the second half and would foul out with 5:37 to play in the game.
"Two of our high minute guys got into foul trouble and that really hurt us," Alabama interim coach John Brannen said. "It was tough with Cooper playing on four fouls and Ret fouling out. It certainly hurts you as a team."
The Canes then opened up their offense and went on a 12-1 run of their own as the Tide’s offense broke down and they could not find the net. Omar Sherman came off the bench to give Miami a spark as he hit consecutive jumpers including a three-pointer to extend Miami’s lead.