New York, NY—The lesser acknowledged Final Four of college basketball arrived
in New York this week to play at Madison Square Garden for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The first of the post-season national college basketball tournaments preceded and was more prestigious than the NCAA Tournament but has been overshadowed by the latter one in recent decades. This year’s NIT semi-final participants are Miami, Old Dominion, Stanford and Temple.
The current version of the NIT includes 32 outstanding teams that were not participants in the NCAA Tournament. The semi-finalists are invited to meet at Madison Square Garden, and the victors meeting in the final two nights later.
The first semi-final between the Miami Hurricanes (25-12) and the Temple Owls (26-11) was played on Tuesday night. Each team was led by a highly respected veteran coach, Jim Larrañaga-Miami and Fran Dunphy-Temple, who is no stranger to post-season tournaments. Both coaches are in the elite category of having exceeded 500 wins as a college coach.
Temple won the first NIT championship in 1938, the inaugural year of the tournament. It was victorious again in 1969. Miami’s first appearance in the NIT was in 1961. The last time the two teams met was a decade ago, December 27, 2005.
The score was twice tied and the lead changed hands twice during the tightly contested first six minutes of the game. A tip-in by Jaylen Bond of Temple gave the Owls a 10-9 advantage that was not relinquished for the next 26 minutes. One difference is the success of the teams was the removal of the ACC’s leading rebounder, Tonye Jekiri at the six minute mark after suffering a concussion. His coach remarked, “After Jekiri suffered concussion somehow and someway these guys stuck together.” Guard Davon Reed, a New Jersey native, reiterated Larrañaga’s words, “After Tonye went down, everyone did what they could.”
A 10-2 run in the middle section of the first half produced a double digit lead for the Owls, 25-14, with 4:46 remaining in the half. The half concluded after a 9-3 Hurricane run that cut deficit to five, 30-25.
The Owls maintained a small lead throughout the first 12 minutes of the second half. A three by Sheldon McClellan at 8:04 gave the Hurricanes its first advantage since the first five minutes of the game. He netted another from long range at 7:35 that brought the lead that would not be overturned back to Miami. Of the two baskets, Dunphy remarked, “The two by McClellan backbreakers for us.” McClellan was the only double digit scorer for Miami (16) and led in rebounds with 11.
The final minutes of the game were hard fought and exciting, but Temple was unable to catch up. One of the major factors in Temple’s inability to win was the inability to hit a shot from the arc in the second half. The Owls missed all 15 attempts. Temple senior Will Cummings commented, “Shots didn’t go in, that’s all. They [hurricanes] did a great job on defense. They were very active.”
The Hurricanes advanced to their first NIT final after the 60-57 victory. They will meet the Stanford Cardinal (23-13) on Thursday night, who defeated Old Dominion in the other semi-final on Tuesday.