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UM comes back, then falls short

'Canes recover from faltering start, but lose to Tulsa 80-71.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2000


AUSTIN, Texas -- Miami senior Johnny Hemsley sat on the floor adjacent to the bench with his hands on his knees, wearing the same blank stare as his teammates.

Neither he nor the Hurricanes could believe their historic season was ending, but there it was in front of them on the court and reverberating through the packed Erwin Center, the chant of "T-U, T-U."

Tulsa University, one of the better kept secrets in college basketball despite its virtually season-long spot in the AP poll, responded to its first deficit with a decisive 22-5 run midway through the second half and rolled to an 80-71 win Friday in the NCAA South Region semifinals.

The No. 7-seeded Golden Hurricane (32-4), ranked No. 18, will make its first Elite Eight appearance on Sunday, against the winner of the Tennessee-North Carolina late game.

All No. 6-seeded Miami (23-11) could do was watch the final moments tick off of the first Sweet 16 appearance in the program's history and exchange congratulatory handshakes. Tulsa coach Bill Self, whose first full-time coaching position was at Oklahoma State in 1986 for first-year head coach Leonard Hamilton, hugged his close friend and mentor.

And yes, the 'Canes could listen and wonder what might have been had they started better.

Miami looked befuddled at the outset, struggling to hang onto the ball let alone muster a shot against the smaller but quicker Golden Hurricane.

The 'Canes went nearly nine minutes without a point and fell behind 25-8 with 6:57 remaining in the half. Sophomore forward John Salmons finally ended the drought on a fastbreak layup off a Tulsa turnover with 6:09 left, and that sparked his teammates.

At both ends of the floor.

The foundation for Hamilton's team is man-to-man defense. The Hurricanes led the Big East in scoring defense (58.2 points), field goal percentage defense (.377) and three-point percentage defense (.259). They finally started showing their trademark tenacity.

Toward the end of the half, the 'Canes held Tulsa to 1-of-10 shooting and forced four turnovers. Meanwhile, Miami senior point guard Vernon Jennings, the school's all-time assist leader who isn't known for his offense, scored all eight of his first-half points in the next five minutes and Hemsley's three-pointer cut the halftime deficit to a manageable 31-25.

The teams traded baskets and fouls early in the second half, but a layup by senior center Mario Bland capped an 8-2 run that tied the game 43-43 with 11:22 left in the game. Jennings followed with a three-pointer to give Miami its first lead of the game.

Suddenly, Golden Hurricane fans had to be nervous.

They knew that their team had manhandled most opponents, winning 25 games by double digits, but in close games, Tulsa had faltered. All four losses, three against Fresno State, were by a combined seven points. Last weekend against No. 2-seeded Cincinnati, Tulsa nearly blew a big lead before escaping 69-61.

But this time, the Golden Hurricane responded calmly During the next six minutes, Tulsa made 7-of-8 shots, 8-of-8 free throws and committed just one turnover to blow past the 'Canes and reclaim a commanding 65-51 lead with 3:44 left. The 'Canes would get no closer than eight the rest of the way. By then Hemsley, the team's top scorer, had fouled out and could only watch.

And listen.

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