While many Stanford fans have already written off this season as a disappointment, the Cardinal still have a chance to win the final game they play.
Only a handful of teams can make that claim. The Card can become one of them Thursday night, as they face the Miami Hurricanes in the NIT title game at Madison Square Garden.
Stanford (23-13, 9-9 Pac-12; RPI #59) turned a 25-4 first-half lead into a near-squeaker over Old Dominion. Still, a huge jumper from Chasson Randle with 58 seconds left helped lead to a 67-60 Cardinal win over the Monarchs. Stanford rode Randle’s 24 points and got good defense and 17 points from Stefan Nastic.
The Miami Hurricanes (25-12, 10-8 ACC; RPI #65) are Stanford’s final opponent of the season. Miami won its first eight games, rising to No. 15 in the polls by December. Losses to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky, and Providence stalled the Hurricanes, but beating then-fourth ranked Duke by 16 points at Cameron put Miami back on the map.
The rest of the ACC season didn’t live up to the promise Miami showed that night in Durham. They lost five of their next eight games, and eventually were bounced out of the ACC Tournament in the second round by Notre Dame.
Miami beat Temple in the NIT semifinal on Tuesday, 60-57, but it wasn’t easy. Normal point guard Angel Rodriguez missed the game with a wrist injury, then center Tonye Jekiri took a blow to the head six minutes into the game and was out the rest of the way with a concussion. The Hurricanes were down by 11 in the first half, and by six in the second half. Still, they rallied behind Sheldon McClellan, who scored 12 of his 16 points after halftime.
McClellan has led the way in the scoring department for the Hurricanes all year. The junior guard has averaged 14.4 points per game, including a season-high 31 at Charlotte. Belgian sophomore guard Manu LeComte hits nearly 46% from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Davon Reed has become a rebounding machine, averaging nine boards over his last three games. 6-foot-10 junior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda can hit the three. Guards Deandre Burnett and Ja’Quan Newton have been Miami’s main options off the bench.
Still, the Hurricanes will have to face the Cardinal without their leading shot-blocker and rebounder (Jekiri). And their second-leading scorer (Rodriguez) was a spectator at Miami’s shootaround Thursday morning; he is doubtful for tonight after being held back by a sprained ankle.
As short-handed as the Cardinal have been at times throughout the season, they may have the upper hand depth-wise over Miami right now. That could be good news for Michael Humphrey, who returned to action for three minutes on Tuesday night.
Stanford should already have learned this lesson (see: Old Dominion, UCLA), but they should not rest with big leads. In its last three games, Miami has trailed by as much as six points in the second half, yet has come back to win all three. And close games are nothing new for the Hurricanes; 15 of their games this year have been decided by five points or less (Miami is 11-4 in those games).
A win for Stanford would make two NIT titles for the Card in the last four seasons, and a third NIT championship overall.********** ********** **********
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