Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Canes Close Strong as they Knock Off Louisville 73-65

Feb 27, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) shoots the ball over Louisville Cardinals guard Damion Lee (0) during the second half at BankUnited Center. The Hurricanes won 73-65. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) shoots the ball over Louisville Cardinals guard Damion Lee (0) during the second half at BankUnited Center. The Hurricanes won 73-65. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Most experts say when you play in March, the team that closes the strongest often comes out victorious. Well if that is the case, the Miami Hurricanes certainly look ready for next month’s madness.

Using a 15-3 run in the last 5:12 of the game, Coach Jim Larranaga and the Canes picked up another vital resume-boosting victory with a 73-65 win over No. 11 Louisville.

“It’s great for me, it’s great for the team and it’s great for the fans,” Angel Rodriguez said of Miami’s win. “On Senior Day we were able to finish with a ‘W’, it’s really a game to remember and more than that, it keeps our hopes alive of winning an ACC Regular Season title

Following a win over No. 3 Virginia on Monday, the Hurricanes had to gear up for yet another heavyweight fight with the always tough and athletic Louisville Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. Just a few hours before the game though, it was announced that sophomore point guard Ja’Quan Newton had been suspended for the final three games of the regular season and would miss Saturday’s clash. Even with his absence, Miami had no trouble getting going early on.

The Hurricanes were on-fire from deep to start as they hit four three-pointers in the first six minutes and took an early 14-9 lead. Despite Miami’s hot shooting, Louisville hung tough as Chinanu Onuaku dominated on the inside and Quentin Snider just couldn’t miss from beyond the arc.

Miami continued their solid performance the rest of the first half, but never extended their lead to more than five. With the Hurricanes not capitalizing on their great play, the Cardinals took advantage at the end of the half and went on an 11-4 run to head to the break up 38-36.

Out of the half, it was more of the same as Louisville’s defense suffocated the Miami offense and extended their lead to 44-36. With the Hurricanes on the brink of losing their hold on the game, it was Angel Rodriguez that gave one of his biggest second half performances in his last game at the BankUnited Center.

“We had a timeout and as he came off the court I said to Angel ‘You need to show everyone in this arena how hard you are willing to play to win this game and how important this game is to you and then your teammates will follow,” Larranaga said. “From that moment on, he was absolutely sensational.”

The redshirt senior was more than sensational as he scored seven straight points and played tremendous defense on Trey Lewis after his talk with Larranaga to cut the deficit to 46-43.

In the next seven minutes, both teams traded buckets, but neither team would back down in such a monumental ACC game. With 5:12 left though, Donovan Mitchell hit a layup to quiet the Miami crowd and to put the Cardinals up 62-58. From there on out, the experienced Hurricanes showed why so many people think they have the potential to play deep into March, and maybe even into April.

Despite having a quiet night by his standards, Sheldon McClellan scored three straight points and cut the deficit to just one. Then after two made free throws each from Jekiri and McClellan, Davon Reed showed his value to this team once again. With 42 seconds left after another stop on defense, Angel Rodriguez drove into the paint and threw one out to Reed in the corner. Just as he did many times against Virginia, the junior calmly nailed one from deep as part of his 17-point performance to put Miami up 68-62 and to send the BankUnited Center crowd into delirium.

The Hurricanes hit their free throws down the stretch and locked down the Cardinals on defense to finish off one of the program’s best weeks in history. Their two wins not only keep them alive for the ACC Regular Season title, but also kept them in the hunt for a No. 1 seed come March. Besides the impact for this season, it was also the first time in school history that Miami had beaten two Top 15 teams in consecutive games.

On a day where Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda were being honored in their last game at home, it was so fitting that the guys that have made this program into one of the best in the country went out winners.

“This was a very big day for us,” Coach Larranaga said about his team’s win. “We had four great seniors and the one thing that we didn’t want was for them to end their last game at home with a loss.”

The seniors clearly had a part to play in making sure they came out of Senior Day winners with some pretty important plays from McClellan, Jekiri and Cruz Uceda. After the game though, it was Rodriguez’s play and 17 points that grabbed attention not only from Coach Larranaga, but also from Coach Rick Pitino.

“He’s a much different player from last year,” Pitino said after the game. “Last year he was out of control, he was erratic, he was heavy, but this year he’s light, he’s doing all the smart things and  you’ve got to give credit to a player that does that.”

Going forward as Miami hopes to make it all the way to Houston, Rodriguez will certainly play a big part and after the game Pitino’s high praise didn’t just extend to Rodriguez, but to the whole team as well.

“Miami has all the tools,” Pitino said about the Hurricanes capability to get to the Final Four this year. “They shoot free throws well, they’re long, they’re physical and they have experience.”

It may be too soon to lock the Hurricanes in to a Final Four spot right now, but their two wins over Virginia and Louisville this week are pretty promising for their hopes. They were in tight spots in both games, but both times their experienced showed and they closed the game out strong. With all their assets and characteristics and their proven ability to play their best down on the stretch, there’s no telling how far this team can go now.