The scoreboard read Texas 65, Miami 53. The under 12 minute timeout whistle blew. I sighed, clicked the remote. My heart was pounding. I needed to get out of the house.
To be clear, I wasn’t quitting. I needed a break. I was too worked up. Changing shirts wasn’t working. Switching seats wasn’t working. Complaining on Twitter wasn’t working. So, I hoped that my turning the TV off and clearing my head would be the reverse juju needed to turn the tide in what was an insanely out-of-this-world performance from Texas.
I plugged my phone in and left. I walked the loop with my wife, kids, and new puppy. I got back to the house, sighed, and pulled up ESPN.com.
Miami 75, Texas 75. 3:57 left.
If I thought my heart was pounding before, my breath escaped me when I saw the score.
“You gonna turn it on, dear,” my wife asked. Obviously I did.
Jordan Miller, who had the game of his life with 27 points on a perfect 7-7 from the field and 13-13 from the stripe (joining Christian Laettner as the second player since 1960 to go 20-20 from the field and stripe combined), stroked four big free throws, and Miami led 79-77 with under 2 minutes to play. Marcus Carr made a jumper after a very iffy Isaiah Wong offensive foul to turn what should have been an 81-77 lead into a tie game. I was literally at the point of hyperventilating.
Then, Norchad Omier jumped straight up for a rebound with a minute left and was badly undercut by Texas’ Brock Cunningham. It appeared initially that Omier was ridiculously being whistled for his fifth foul. After a brief conversation, the officials rightly changed it to a foul on Cunningham, and instead of Texas shooting free throws for the lead, it was Miami. I clapped like a fool as Omier drained them both.
And then on the other end, Omier slapped the ball away from Carr, and Texas had no choice but to foul Wong, who pushed the lead to 83-79. I was nervously picking my boys up over my head to do something with my hands, which were shaking.
Then, Cunningham missed a jumper, Miller was fouled, and I sighed the deepest sigh I can remember in a long time.
“Oh my God, this is happening.”
Miller made both, and Miami was firmly in the driver’s seat. Tyrese Hunter made a quick layup with 19 seconds left to bring it to 85-81, but the red-hot Miller made two more free throws, and it was all academic then. Texas let go a final three which clanged off the rim, and the horn sounded.
It was over. Miami 88, Texas 81. I let out a yell, raised my arms over my head, and picked up my kids. And then, after I put them down, my emotions overcame me, and I started sobbing tears of joy. My kids asked what was wrong, and my wife just chuckled and said, “daddy is just happy.” The understatement of the year.
The Miami Hurricanes are headed to the Final freaking Four.
It was an outpouring of joy and relief after so many tough losses I and all other Cane fans had watched over the years. Being an alumnus of Tennessee and Miami, college basketball has been nothing but a kick to the crotch my entire adult life. So many good Miami teams had garnered hope of reaching the school’s first-ever Final Four, only to come up short. The 2012-2013 team with Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, and others thrilled us with the school’s only ACC tournament title on the way to the Sweet 16, where they fell to Marquette. The 2015-2016 squad with Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and Tonye Jekiri reached the Sweet 16 after a thrilling win over Wichita State in the second round, but got their doors blown off 92-69 by eventual national champion Villanova. The 2018 team led Loyola-Chicago in their first-round matchup with seconds to go before falling at the buzzer on a three pointer. And we all know what happened in the second half against Kansas in last year’s Elite Eight tilt. Miami had flirted with greatness, but never could quite get close enough to smell it. Now, those painful memories sting a little bit less.
I also couldn’t help but think back to my first ever Miami basketball game back in the 2001-2002 season, my first year as a student. It was at the old Miami arena, the team’s last full season there, and I saw Miami knock off perennial power UConn 68-66. It’s only fitting that they’re playing them now on the sport’s biggest stage. UConn’s won another couple of titles since then. Miami is still looking for that elusive first one.
This special group of young men has accomplished something that few pundits gave them a chance to do, even after coming so close last year. It’s a season that, no matter what happens now, will be one that we remember fondly and will be celebrated forever.
So there you have my thoughts and experience. What was it like for you? What did you do? Let’s hear it!
GO CANES! FINAL FOUR, BABY!!!