Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Rodriguez’s Late Tip-In Saves Miami In 65-63 Win Over Pitt

Feb 9, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Teammates swarm Miami Hurricane guard Angel Rodriguez (2nd from left) as the Hurricanes defeat the Pittsburgh Panthers 65-63 at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Teammates swarm Miami Hurricane guard Angel Rodriguez (2nd from left) as the Hurricanes defeat the Pittsburgh Panthers 65-63 at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Hurricanes have made a habit of double-digit and dominating wins this season, but for any successful college basketball team, you’ve got to be able to pull out the close ones as well. In Miami’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers Tuesday night, it couldn’t have gotten any closer.

With 1.4 seconds left, the smallest player on the court, Angel Rodriguez, finished off a flurry of putback attempts with a tip-in of his own and sealed a crucial 65-63 ACC win over Pittsburgh.

Rodriguez’s heroics were sensational, but if it weren’t for the redshirt senior point guard ignoring the direction of his head coach, the play may have never even happened.

“I know my job is to get back as Coach [Larranaga] always says, but there wasn’t a whole lot of time left and I thought I might as well take a gamble,” Rodriguez said after the game. “Luckily for us, it paid off.”

Despite those chaotic last few seconds paying off in a big way for this Miami team, the first half of the game was anything but heroic. Against Jamie Dixon’s squad that is known for mucking up games with their physical defense and constant intensity, the Hurricanes struggled in front of a late-arriving BankUnited Center crowd.

In those first 19 minutes of the game, the Hurricanes lacked the fight needed to compete in an ACC matchup and their 8-of-23 shooting from the field compounded that issue even more. With the Hurricanes on the fringe of going to the half without any momentum, Miami needed something to get both them and the quiet crowd going into the break and they got just that type of moment from Sheldon McClellan.

With five seconds left in the first half, the redshirt senior from Houston grabbed a rebound off of a Jamel Artis missed three, but instead of settling for a last-second half-court heave, McClellan raced down the length of the court and fired up a running three-pointer that fell to the delight of the Miami faithful. The shot not only ignited those in attendance at the BankUnited Center, but it cut the Pittsburgh lead to a manageable 33-29 deficit.

Despite that momentum swing, the experienced Coach, Jim Larranaga, still wasn’t happy with his team’s sluggish first half performance. In searching for a way to get his team motivated and ready for a scrappy battle in the second half, the experienced Miami head man found just the idea.

“At halftime I was not pleased with our fight,” Coach Larranaga said. “So, I took a basketball and one-by-one asked the guys to see if they could wrestle the ball away from me.”

Tonye Jekiri chimed in as he sat next to his coach at the press conference to say “Everybody got it from him,” to which Larranaga replied with a big smile on his face, “That’s because I let them.”

Even if he did let them get the ball and even though his leadership style could be described as a bit unconventional, it clearly worked wonders.

After a first half that was played at a snail-like pace, the game’s pace sped up exponentially and the Canes began to look like the team that has every chance to be playing in April this season. Shooters were hitting from the outside, the compete level on the defense was extraordinary and time after time the Canes were diving out of bounds to save loose balls. It was like a completely different team.

With both teams battling and looking to pick up a quality ACC win, the lead went back-and-forth throughout the second half. With 6:17 left though, Kamari Murphy finished off an and-one and it looked like the Hurricanes might pull away with a 55-49 lead, but Pittsburgh wasn’t done yet. With six points from Sheldon Jeter and a three from James Robinson, the Panthers went on a 9-2 run and took a 58-57 lead with just 3:49 left. As we know with this experienced Miami team though, little ever fazes them.

In another stroke of brilliance, Larranaga called a timeout to refocus the team who then proceeded to go on a 6-0 run of their own. With a 63-58 lead and just 2:07 left it looked like once again, Miami was in the clear, but just like before, Pittsburgh wasn’t going to go down easy.

A dunk from Michael Young and another three from James Robinson tied the game at 63-63 and the stage was set for big-shot Angel Rodriguez to close out a victory for Miami.

The Puerto Rico native dribbled the ball at the top of the perimeter as the clock ticked down and with four seconds left, Rodriguez found McClellan wide-open in the corner. The Texas transfer put the shot up which everyone in attendance likely thought was falling, but somehow, it didn’t go down. As the ball bounced off the rim, Davon Reed got there first, but his putback attempt was too strong as well and that’s when the 5’11” Angel Rodriguez made his mark.

Going up on the left side of the basket against 6’9” Michael Young, Rodriguez was able to reach the ball with his left hand and poked the ball in to give the Hurricanes the 65-63 lead with only 1.4 seconds left.

“I don’t know why in the world Angel [Rodriguez] went to the offensive boards, but he didn’t listen to me the whole game anyways so I’m glad he didn’t listen to me at the end,” Larranaga joked of Rodriguez’s last-second winner. “That was a major league play though for the smallest guy on the court to go up over everyone and just tip it in.

After Robinson was unable to get up a shot for the Panthers with 1.4 seconds left, the Hurricanes saw the clock hit zero and saw another quality win go into their ever-growing tournament resume. It was a win that kept the Canes on pace with top-of-the-ACC North Carolina Tar Heels and showed once again this team can pull out victories in so many different ways.

We saw during that magical 2012-13 run that those Hurricanes needed a few late-second heroics to become one of the school’s best teams ever. Now this year’s team is just following suit.

We’ve seen this team win by 46, we’ve seen this team win 15 games by double-digits, but now Miami has shown it can win a tight ballgame and that’s a good sign for March.