NEW YORK – A head coaching career that has seen the pinnacle, the Final Four. College basketball’s final weekend. There have been conference titles, rankings and the like. For Jim Larranaga, one thing was missing. The opportunity to coach at the “world’s most famous arena.”
Sure he played here for Providence. Served here as a Virginia assistant. In over three decades calling the shots, never the opportunity to walk the Garden sideline with his team on the floor. That changed on Tuesday night.
Larranaga’s Miami team battled Temple in the semifinals of the NIT. For Bronx-raised Larranaga, coaching at the mecca of the game was special. Add the pursuit of a national title, it all added up to a special evening.
Miami came from 11 down to defeat Temple 60-57. The outcome was in doubt as the final shot, a Temple three-point attempt at the buzzer had “eyes” but rimmed to send Miami to the finals.
“It was different than anything I anticipated,” Larranaga said outside the media room following the semifinal win. “It was different. I coached in the Final Four with George Mason back in 2006, but just the atmosphere here is so different. You look up, the lights and the scoreboard up above you give it such an atmosphere.”
Larranaga, though familiar with the venue, could not help being awestruck by the environment. He admitted once the ball goes up you get immersed in the game. Still it had an effect. “I think it affected our team a bit,” he said. Taking nothing away from Temple, he said the Garden experience got the Hurricanes caught up in the moment early on. “The second half, we were a more relaxed team.”
Miami will need to eliminate any Garden jitters in the championship. They face Stanford, a 67-60 winner over Old Dominion in the other semifinal for the NIT title. Stanford will be in quest of a second NIT title in four years on Thursday.
For Miami, it has been about battling injuries and continuing to compete. The Hurricanes came back from 18 down in the second half to win at Richmond in the quarterfinal, thus punching their ticket to New York. As noted, the Temple game was another comeback effort. They are certain to be ready Thursday. “We are competing for a national championship,” said Larranaga.
On the most grandest of stages.