Miami reaches NIT quarterfinals, tops Alabama 73-66

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Tonye Jekiri started Miami’s second-half rally with an offensive rebound and dunk, things in the 7-footer’s regular repertoire.

Taking a 3-pointer, that was a new – and long-awaited – twist.

Jekiri’s first career 3-pointer helped highlight a game-deciding 17-2 Miami run, Manu Lecomte finished with 17 points and the Hurricanes beat Alabama 73-66 in an NIT second-round game Saturday.

”I already told all my teammates, `The first one I’m going to take, I’m going to make it,”’ said Jekiri, who played his first 101 college games without ever trying a shot from beyond the arc. ”I was supposed to shoot it last game.”

It was worth the wait for Miami (23-12), which advances to Tuesday’s NIT quarterfinals against either Richmond or Arizona State. Those schools meet in a second-round game at Richmond on Sunday night.

The Hurricanes, who felt they belonged in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68, improved the Atlantic Coast Conference’s record in the NCAA and NIT to 9-1.

”We’re in one state of mind, survive and advance,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. ”That’s the whole key in tournament play like this.”

Rodney Cooper scored 20 points and Levi Randolph added 17 points for Alabama (19-15). Retin Obasohan added 11 and Michael Kessens had 10 for the Crimson Tide – who missed 21 of 25 shots during a 15-minute stretch of the second half.

”I want to say how proud I am of this group of young men,” said Alabama interim coach John Brannen, who led the Tide in their two NIT games after the firing of coach Anthony Grant. ”Being able to accomplish what they did this past week under less-than-ideal circumstances … instead of running for the hills, these guys took it straight on.”

Miami played without point guard Angel Rodriguez, who sat out because of a nagging wrist injury that he’s aggravated several times in recent weeks. The Hurricanes advanced despite a season-low two points from Sheldon McClellan, the team’s leading scorer.

”Balance in our offense is very, very critical,” Larranaga said.

The Hurricanes used a 12-1 run to take a 27-18 lead, only to see Alabama quickly answer with a 16-3 spurt of its own. Obasohan’s step-back foul-line jumper as time expired in the first half capped that burst, putting the Crimson Tide up 34-30 going into the locker room.

Miami trailed by seven points with 17 minutes left, when Jekiri’s putback dunk breathed some life into a quiet arena – and, it seemed, into the Hurricanes.

Burnett’s consecutive 3-pointers midway through the second half put Miami ahead for good, and Jekiri’s 3 moments later helped put the game away as teammates leaped in celebration.

TIP-INS

Crimson Tide: Alabama hasn’t won consecutive games since a six-game winning streak ended on Jan. 13, immediately following up each of the season’s last eight victories with a loss. … Alabama had a statistically odd stretch where it made four straight shots, then missed eight, then made four, then missed four, then made five, then missed seven.

Hurricanes: Miami used nine players in the first 15 minutes and eight scored – McClellan being the exception. He was scoreless until a dunk with 11:41 left to tie the game at 45. … The Hurricanes are assured of playing at least 36 games, matching the school mark set by the 2010-11 and 2012-13 clubs. … Jekiri is the 20th 7-footer to make a 3-pointer in Division I this season, the nation’s most since 22 did in 2007-08, according to STATS.

SERIES HISTORY

It was the third meeting between the schools, Miami winning for the first time. Alabama won in 1968, as well as in the 2011 NIT quarterfinals.

BELGIAN MATCHUP

Lecomte and Obasohan are both Belgian, and relished the chance to go head-to-head. ”I’ve played with him back in Belgium and against him. He’s like a brother to me,” Lecomte said.