Randle Free Throws Lift Stanford to Second NIT Title in Four Years

NEW YORK — One game earlier, on the same floor in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, senior guard Chasson Randle became the Stanford Cardinal’s all-time leading scorer.

On Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, he led Stanford to its third NIT title and second in four years with Randle on the roster, in a battle between a pair of two seeds.

Calmly making four free throws to put his team ahead for good, with 3.4 seconds remaining, Randle saved the Cardinal (24-13), which blew a 13-point second-half lead before rallying for a thrilling 66-64 overtime victory over the shorthanded Miami Hurricanes (25-13), who were missing two key starters (junior point guard Angel Rodriguez and junior center Tonye Jekiri).

Thinking back to when he missed an overtime free throw that could have given Stanford a win during what became a double overtime loss at Pac-12 rival UCLA on Jan. 8, Randle said, “There were no nerves. I had been in that position before earlier in the year at UCLA, and I made the first one, missed the second one.

“So I remember, I’d be in practice thinking about that, ‘I’ll be back in this moment,’ and how am I going to feel. I just wanted to feel as calm as possible, and when I got up there, I did. I was calm and I was fortunate to knock them down.”

Despite missing each of its five field goal attempts in the extra session, Stanford scored all of its overtime points at the foul line, where the Cardinal went 7-for-8 after regulation, with Randle — who missed his only prior free throw attempt in the game — making all six of his overtime foul shots.

Stanford’s leading scorer this season and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player,  Randle led all scorers with 25 points. With 13 points at halftime, he was the only scorer with more than seven points at the break.

Conversely, junior guard Sheldon McClellan, the Hurricanes’ leading scorer this year, was held scoreless in the first half while going 0-for-5 from the floor as Stanford closed the half strong to break a tie and build a double-digit lead.

McClellan and Randle switched roles in the second half, when McClellan scored 15 of his team-high 17 points to lead Miami back, while Randle was held to just six points, including just two points over the first 18:52 of the frame.

Entering the game with a paltry 3.8 scoring average, freshman guard Ja’Quan Newton (10 points, five rebounds) opened the scoring on a jumper and scored the Hurricanes’ first seven points to keep Miami within one point after Stanford — which took it first five shots from behind the arc — scored eight straight points on consecutive 3-pointers from senior forward Anthony Brown (nine points, game-high 12 rebounds) and Randle, and a jumper by senior center Stefan Nastic (11 points).

One of two free throws from freshman guard James Palmer (six points) tied the game at 8-apeice before a Randle dunk and a Nastic jumper gave the Cardinal a 12-8 after 7:37.

After a Brown dunk kept the margin the same, at 16-12, Miami scored the next five points on a jumper by sophomore guard Davon Reed (16 points) and a left corner trey from Palmer to grab its second lead of the game, 17-16, with 7:45 left in the opening half, before the Hurricanes went cold.

Randle, who recorded 10 of Stanford’s first 23 points, scored five straight points and eight overall during a 10-0 run that put the Cardinal up, 28-18, with 2:10 left before halftime.

A layup by freshman guard Deandre Burnett (two points) ended the spurt and gave the Hurricanes their first points in 4:07 and their made first field goal in 5:58.

But a layup from freshman forward Michael Humphrey (two points) in the final seconds of the stanza capped a larger 16-4 stretch which extended Stanford’s lead to the biggest of the half, 32-21, by intermission.

Reed scored five straight points — one more than he had in the first half — on a 3-pointer and a driving layup, to get Miami within 34-26 as the second half began.

Stanford sophomore guard Marcus Allen (nine points, 10 rebounds) answered with the next three points, but a layup by McClellan (his first points after missing his first six shots) triggered a 12-5 run that trimmed a game-high 34-21 Cardinal lead to 39-33.

Brown followed with a 3-pointer, to move the margin to nine points, but Miami finished a fast break layup with an electrifying alley-oop dunk from McClellan, off of a pass from freshman forward Reid Travis (seven points), to climb within 42-37 and force a Stanford timeout with 13:23 remaining.

The Cardinal doubled that edge less than a minute later after Reed got into the lane for a 3-point play and Allen followed with a layup.

McClellan’s first made 3-pointer and another trey (the only points by junior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda), followed by four more points from McClellan, keyed a 16-6 spurt that tied the game at 53-all on a pair of free throws from freshman forward Omar Sherman (eight points) with 3:27 left.

Almost a minute later, after a throng of Hurricanes fans made the Garden sound like a Miami home game, a Nastic jumper silenced the crowd and regained the lead for Stanford, 55-53. However, 19 seconds after that, Sherman tied the game again on a layup.

Held in check for most of the half, Randle put the Cardinal back up by two points on a layup with 1:07 left, and after McClellan knotted the contest with a pair of free throws, Randle gave Stanford a 59-57 lead with 34 seconds left in regulation.

Answering those foul shots with two more free throws of his own, McClellan tied it up again, at 59-59, with 16.8 seconds to go in the half.

Allen had a chance to win the game, but his 3-pointer from the left wing missed as the second half expired.

Two free throws by Randle opened the scoring 1:03 into overtime, but Miami scored the next five points — on a free throw and layup by Reed, with a McClellan dunk in between — to lead, 64-61, with 1:03 left.

Attacking the lane, Randle drew a non-shooting foul on Reed. And with Stanford in the bonus, Randle coolly made two free throws with 38.9 seconds remaining to cut Miami’s lead to one.

An experimental 30-second shot clock played a role at that point, as instead of fouling (with a usual 35-second shot clock), the Cardinal simply made a stop, forcing a missed 3-pointer by Burnett with 10 seconds left.

At the other end, Randle got Reed to foul him again while leaning in on a short jumper. Not rattled in the least by the pressure of the moment, Randle easily knocked down another two free throws to give Stanford a 65-64 edge.

Having trouble inbounding the ball in the back court, the Hurricanes threw it away and were forced to foul Brown with 03.1 to go.

Brown only made the second of two foul shots, to give Miami one more shot.

This time, the Hurricanes went deep with a long pass just under the scoreboard at center court. But again, they couldn’t connect on it, and the play was initially ruled a turnover until a replay review overturned the original call of which team touch the ball last before it went out of bounds.

That gave Miami one last chance from the Stanford baseline with 1.8 seconds left. Yet all the Hurricanes could attempt was a forced 3-pointer by McClellan from the right corner, which fell short, off the rim, at the final buzzer.

Describing the final play, McClellan said, “The original play was for me to look for the lob, to lob one open and Ivan was supposed to pop a three and it wasn’t open so he cut to the basket, and I just made myself available to the ball.  But I was looking for a shot… or another foul, but at the time I was just trying to get a shot off.  It was just a tough shot to try to make.”

Head coach Jim Larranaga said, “I thought both teams played extremely hard, very aggressively at both ends, and we put ourselves in a position to win the game. And unfortunately, we came up just one basket short.

“I know our guys are very, very disappointed, but I told them I love them.  I’m very, very proud of them.  They did a fantastic job.  This last three weeks has been a blast.

“I want to thank the NIT for inviting us and hosting such a fantastic event.  Coming to New York in Madison Square Garden, I’m sure, is a memory that for our guys will last a lifetime.  My congratulations to Stanford, Johnny Dawkins and his staff.”

Admitting severe disappointment in having his team’s bubble popped on Selection Sunday, when the consensus was that the Hurricanes would make the NCAA tournament, Reed admitted, “At first I don’t think honestly our team was even willing to play in the NIT, but we saw as the games went on that we could really win this thing and everybody bought in.  We just grinded out game by game.”

Larranaga’s counterpart, head coach Johnny Dawkins, said, “I think it was an incredible game. I think the type of game you expect… when you’re competing for a championship.  I was really proud of our guys because I thought Miami played extremely well in the second half, but our guys just refused to lose. I think that’s what you saw down the stretch of the game, the last few minutes and in overtime, just a will to win.”

Although the Cardinal had hoped for an NCAAA tournament berth, Dawkins made no apologies for accepting the NIT championship trophy as a consolation prize.

“How many teams are going to win championships this year?,” he asked rhetorically, before answering his own question, “Not very many.

“So to have a championship moment, it goes with you for the rest of your life.  Of course, there was disappointment that we didn’t make [the NCAA] tournament, like there was for a lot of teams. We felt like a lot of teams, that we were a bubble team, and it could have gone our way just as easily as it went some of those [other] teams’ way that went in there.

“But we didn’t hang our heads. When we said we were invited to the NIT, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, we’re in it.  Let’s prove everybody wrong.  Let’s prove that we should have been a team that could have gone into the NCAA Tournament.’ And the only way you can do that in my opinion is coming here and having success, and that’s what we were able to do.”

Dawkins was particularly happy for Cardinal players like Randle who finished their careers with a title.

“For my seniors especially, to go out on this note and to have a chance to cut down a net to win a championship, they will remember that for the rest of their lives.” he said.

Even though it didn’t show for much of the second half, with Miami playing more aggressively, that point was a motivator for Stanford.

“We talked about that at halftime and we talked about it before the game, just the memories that they will have, having had success here if they were fortunate enough to win at Madison Square Garden against a very good basketball team for a championship,” Dawkins said.

Adding to its previous NIT championships in 1991 and 2012, the Cardinal became the sixth team to win at least three NIT titles and improved to 3-0 in the NIT finals during the Hurricanes’ first NIT championship game.

Guiding the Cardinal to NIT or NCAA tournament wins for a fourth straight season, Dawkins said, “We are a program that wants to compete in the NCAA [tournament] and wants to compete for [national] championships.

“Unfortunately, that has not happened as much as we would like. But our last four years, we’ve won two NIT championships and we have gone to the Sweet 16 (in the NCAA tournament). I don’t think that’s horrible. I think we have shown that we can be competitive in either tournament because when we’ve been in any of them, we’ve had success.”

A major factor in that prosperity, Randle was happy to win his final game in a Stanford uniform while having high hopes in terms of the potential springboard Randle’s second NIT title could lead to for the teammates he’ll leave behind.

“It’s just a great feeling, just to be able to end your season and your career with a win,” he said. “I’m just so happy with our seniors and all six of us, as well as the younger guys, they will have something to hang their hats on in the spring and summer when they are working to get either back here or with the NCAA championship.”

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons).Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship).He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

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