Happy Saturday everybody. It’s nice to be able to watch a full day of NCAA Tournament games knowing Miami has made it to the second round. What’s your favorite matchup of the day? I’m looking forward to Kansas vs Arkansas myself.
I recapped Miami’s come-from-behind victory over Drake. However, after awaking this morning, I could not stop thinking about Nijel Pack’s performance last night. I obviously mentioned him as the Canes’ leading scorer, but focused on other areas of the game for my recap. Hey, we’re all human and make mistakes. Luckily, I can show my appreciation today with a list of how he led Miami to the win.
Anyone who watched the first half of Miami vs Drake last night saw some of the worst offense college basketball had to offer for the 2022-23 season. The Canes were ice cold from the field, yet only down 5 points at halftime. Drake shot 12-26 from the field, 46%, including 3-9 from three-point range. They should’ve been up by more. Enter Nijel Pack. He made Miami’s first three-pointer of the game, giving the Canes an 11-9 lead. After a stop, he scored on a jumper on their next possession, forcing a timeout by Drake. In the moment, it was a momentum killer. Pack’s 10 first-half points were huge in keeping the game within reach.
Second half pressure defense
I mentioned Bensley Joseph and Wooga Poplar as the main backcourt guys forcing Drake into mistakes. Nijel Pack was just as involved, making a late-game steal. Miami’s smallest player is not known for his defense, but he stepped up his intensity on that end for the final four minutes. He also did it without fouling, keeping Drake’s guards off the free-throw line. It was great to watch Pack step up and take the challenge.
Quick aside for Isaiah Wong
We all watched it. Isaiah Wong was off his game last night. Like really off his game. That said, I don’t get all the choking comments. The guy doesn’t get nervous. He had a terrible game on a big stage. Sadly, that happens sometimes. To all the Wong haters out there: please review last year’s NCAA Tournament games. He scored the first 13 points against USC in the first round and finished the game with a team-high 22. Wong then led Miami in scoring again against Auburn, with 21 points and a ferocious dunk over future No. 2 NBA Draft pick Jabari Smith. He’s a really good basketball player. Rant over.
Pack began the second half with a sweet three-pointer. Watching at home, I thought it was the start to an offensive explosion. Wow, was I wrong. No matter, the Canes stayed close enough to win the game. With five minutes left, their season on the line, and Wong being as off as he was, it was clear Pack should have been and was the guy initiating Miami’s offense when it mattered most. And he rose to the occasion. He made a jumper to cut the deficit to six points with 4:29 left. That shot absolutely kickstarted Miami’s run. Pack then made a clutch jumper with 1:03 left, giving the Canes the lead for good. Ice in his veins. Pack looked like he had no doubt his jump shots were going in as he was taking them. The stroke was pure.
Sandwiched in between his clutch jumpers was an absolute dime of a pass to Jordan Miller underneath the basket. Unfortunately, Miller was blocked at the rim by Drake’s Darnell Brodie. Nijel Pack played a perfect final four minutes of basketball last night.
Nijel Pack.— Canes Men’s Basketball (@CanesHoops) March 18, 2023
Came through CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/vs58jclZLO
Huge late rebound and free-throws!
A couple possessions after his jumper with 1:03 left, Tucker DeVries had a nice look for three at the top of the key. It bounced high off the rim, and I thought Brodie was going to come down with it and stuff it to bring Drake within a point. Luckily, he couldn’t get there in time and Nijel Pack soared for the strong two-handed rebound, then was immediately fouled. Pack calmly made his two free-throws, giving the Canes a five-point lead with 20 seconds to play.
Coach L has spoken about how well Pack has fit in this season. He became “one of the guys” immediately. Good thing, because he knew what his team needed late in the game last night. Pack said he went to the bench for the last media timeout and told his teammates, “This can’t be the way it ends”. I loved the way he described the sequence and what it led to on the court. Watch for yourself below (1:40 mark for Pack).
If Pack continues his hot shooting from last night and Wong plays like he has most of the season, the Canes have a great chance against a tall and talented Indiana squad.