Miami dominates No. 2 seed Auburn 79-61 to reach Sweet 16

GREENVILLE, SC (AP) — Miami has shown there’s still a place for old-school basketball played by experienced players — and for the Hurricanes, it’s in the Sweet 16.

The 10th-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) used a second-half push and neutralized Auburn’s No. 2 seeds Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in a 79-61 victory for their first trip to the regional semi-finals in six years.

Auburn relied heavily on the 6-foot-10 Smith, the Southeastern Conference rookie of the year, and 7-1 Kessler, the national leader in blocked shots, on their way to an SEC title and what turned out to be a deep run in the Midwest. Region.

Instead, it was Miami’s smaller, older, and more discerning lineup that dominated.

“Being small,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said, “has its advantages.”

Especially when the group included sixth-grade “super seniors” in Charlie Moore and Kameron McGusty, and fearless sophomore Isaiah Wong, all of whom are 6-5 or younger.

Wong had a game-high 21 points, McGusty had 20, and Moore had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“We just had a great night tonight,” said Sam Waardenburg, at 6-10, the tallest player in Miami’s regular rotation. “That’s what we can do every night.”

Miami advanced to the Round of 16 for the fourth time overall and the third time in Larranaga’s 10 seasons. The Hurricanes will travel to Chicago to face No. 11 seed Iowa State in a matchup that surely no one saw coming.

“It’s a dream come true for every kid growing up, you watch those college games in March all day,” McGusty said. “You just dream of making a run in the tournament and this is the start of our run.”

Auburn’s run ended in incredible fashion as its frontcourt of future NBA big men — Smith and Kessler are both thrown in the first round — was largely ineffective against Miami’s relentless pressure.

Smith struggled to make shots, finishing 3 of 16 for 10 points – and got drenched by the 6-3 Wong two days after Smith’s one-handed jam in the first-round win over Jacksonville State was the subject of the tournament.

Kessler committed two early fouls and spent much of the first half on the bench. He, too, couldn’t find his touch and missed all six of his attempts and tied his season low by two points after finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against Jacksonville State.

“They just sent someone every time I tried to attack or make a move,” Smith said. “They just kept bodies on me.”

The Tigers never held the lead, but only lost 33-32 at halftime.

But the Hurricanes opened the second half with a 15-7 flurry against four points apiece by Wong and McGusty. By the time Moore hit a 3-pointer, the score was 48-39 and the noisy early Auburn crowd was quiet.

“In the second half we were everywhere,” Larranaga said proudly.

The Tigers had no answer in the streak, losing in the NCAA second round for the second time in three tournament appearances under coach Bruce Pearl.

Jaylin Williams and KD Johnson led Auburn with 12 points apiece. Smith had a record 15 rebounds.

“It’s the first time we’ve been given it,” Pearl said. “We didn’t know how to react.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: Larranaga would like to recapture the magic of his team’s run from George Mason in 2006 to the Final Four as the No. 11 seed. His Hurricanes are sharp right now. They committed a total of just seven turnovers in two tournament games with Moore, at his fourth school in six years, in charge of the offense.

Auburn: The Tigers looked like a national championship contender for much of the season. But their shooting touch cooled on the stretch. They shot just 30.4 percent (21 of 69) against Miami, the third time in the last six games they were below 40 percent.

SMITH’S FUTURE

Auburn’s Smith said he hasn’t decided on his future, although projections call for him to be an NBA lottery pick, possibly even becoming No. 1 overall. Smith had tears in his eyes as he spoke about his freshman season in college and talked about what he would take away from this year no matter what. “Bad games, good games, I take them with me and take Auburn, just thank them for everything,” he said.

FANTASTIC CINEMA

Up just 33-32 at halftime, cinephile Larranaga called on his best William Wallace speech from ‘Braveheart’ to pump up his players. Citing the film, Larranaga explained how he told his team: “Look, it’s a one-point game. Auburn is an exceptional team. We have to know what we are made of,” he said. “Can we go out and fight them for the next 20 minutes and keep our dream alive?”

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