The veteran leadership was worth it.
From being projected to finish 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference and to now returning to the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years.
A combined 41-point performance from Miami veteran guards Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty and a 56% second-half shooting mark helped power 10th-seeded Miami past No. 2 seed Auburn in a 79-61 upset victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday in Greenville, South Carolina.
“I can’t be happier for my guys. They did such a fantastic job of executing the game plan,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “These guys were able to make plays, get into the open court. Auburn is a very high, up-tempo team, but we feel very, very comfortable in that environment as well. So, these guys ran for layups and made a lot of really good decisions in the open court.”
Scoring 17 points off 13 forced turnovers, Miami (25-10) blazed on a 13-3 run in the game’s final 4 ½ minutes. Auburn (28-6) never trailed by less than eight points thereafter, ending its season in shambles after beginning the season 22-1.
Sixth-year senior guard Charlie Moore, once again touted by Larrañaga as the Hurricanes’ “Chris Paul” involving his playmaking savviness, collected a team-most eight assists and nine rebounds, in addition to providing 15 points.
“I’ve been keeping up with [Moore] since high school. I knew about him and knew who he was,” Miami sixth-year guard Kameron McGusty said. “He just had such a long journey. He’s always been a great point guard. Every time I’ve seen him in college or high school, he was always getting his teammates involved, being a leader, able to score the ball with the best of them.”
Junior forward Jordan Miller sparked the Hurricanes’ offense from the opening tip with six straight points, while tackling the responsibility of containing forward Jabari Smith, the Tigers’ leading scorer and highest-ranked commit in program history. The 6-foot-10 18-year-old provided 10 points and 15 rebounds but was charged with four fouls.
“We had a game plan, and we started Jordan on him, and Jordan did a tremendous job pressuring him, making him feel uncomfortable,” Miami sixth-year senior forward Sam Waardenburg said. “He’s a great catch and shoot guy, and we felt like, if we were able to get him to put the ball on the ground, we were at our best there. If he turned his back to any of us, we were going after it.”
Miami entered halftime with a 33-32 advantage. Both teams grappled for three-point successes, combining to shoot 8-for-41 from three-point range. Fourteen team assists in the second half kept the Hurricanes rolling for 46 points.
A 9-for-38 shooting display in the second half and 22 allowed fastbreak points didn’t help the SEC regular season champions, either. Miami held Auburn to 17 points under its scoring average.
“I thought just we hadn’t been hit in the mouth like that all year,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who was recently named the SEC Coach of the Year. “We responded, and by the end of the first half we battled back. But when they hit us in the mouth again at the start of the second half, I thought of going with a different starting lineup, and I probably should have because of how poorly we started.”
With the victory, Larrañaga earned his fourth 25-win season and third trip to the Sweet 16 at Miami.
“For the program, it means everything,” McGusty said. “We’re typically known as a football school. So to be able to take our basketball team to the Sweet 16 is just amazing, not only for us but for the school, the staff, everybody that works in the basketball organization, just anybody who’s had any part of our journey and the success we’ve had this year. We just do it for them.”