Nijel Pack and Miami hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country to beat Houston 89-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16, leaving the NCAA Tournament without a single No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.
Miami (28-7), only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4), will play second-seeded Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier in the Midwest Region final for the chance to go to the Final Four.
About 30 minutes before Houston’s loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament’s first weekend.
The fifth-seeded Hurricanes reached a regional final for the second straight year just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.
This is the first time in three years Houston didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.
The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.
Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the ‘Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Jordan Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
It resulted in a heartbreaking end for a Cougars team that was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, much to his players’ delight, busted out dance moves in the locker room befitting a 73-year-old man harkening to the disco era. Then Wooga Poplar and Joseph Bensley joined him up front for an impromptu line dance.
Larrañaga will seek his first Final Four with Miami and second overall — he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.
Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Jordan Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and forcing Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
There was no denying it was Miami’s night after Houston made a mini run with under five minutes to play. With the shot clock running down, Omier was forced to put up a jumper just inside the free-throw line. It bounced off the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again before dropping through. A minute later, Houston’s Jarace Walker missed from point-blank range.
Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.
Houston — which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.
Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.
Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.
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