Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Seniors Seize Control, Lead Miami to 88-82 Win Over Virginia Tech

Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) shoots as Virginia Tech Hokies forward Zach LeDay (32) defends in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) shoots as Virginia Tech Hokies forward Zach LeDay (32) defends in the first half during day three of the ACC conference tournament at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

“The greatest teacher is experience.”

It is a phrase we have heard all season from Coach Jim Larranaga and after failing to advance past the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals the last two seasons, the Miami Hurricanes finally learned their lesson.

Boosted by heroic displays from Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, Miami’s most experienced players, the Canes avenged their regular-season finale loss and defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies 88-82 to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals.

“Well, Angel and Sheldon were tremendous,” Larranaga said after the game. “They came with a lot of enthusiasm, energy, effort and execution. Tonight when Angel saw his opportunities, he took advantage of it and Sheldon was the same way.”

Rodriguez, McClellan and the rest of the Canes had an interesting opening act in the ACC Tournament as it came against a Virginia Tech squad that had beaten the Hurricanes only five days before. In contrast to the sluggish start the Canes went through in Blacksburg, VA, one of the team’s most influential leaders, Davon Reed, made sure that didn’t happen again.

“That was a real tough game for us on Saturday unfortunately,” the 6’6” junior said of the team’s loss to Virginia Tech. “We didn’t really play the way that we wanted too, so tonight we just came out strong from the tip.”

While Reed may not be the most experienced player on the Miami roster, the junior exemplifies the type of calming presence every team needs. In a pressure-packed environment full of maroon and orange, Reed opened the game with eight points in the first six minutes and got the Hurricanes out to an early 13-10 lead.

Building off of the hot start from the junior, other Hurricanes began to get in on the action and the Canes energy was too much for the Hokies who played just 24 hours ago. A jumper by Sheldon McClellan extended Miami’s lead to 31-21 with 4:01 left in the half, but just when the Hurricanes looked like they might pull away, Buzz Williams’s Hokies responded.

With Larranaga hoping to prevent Angel Rodriguez from picking up a third foul in the first half, the redshirt senior had to watch from the bench during the last 6:57. With the Hurricanes point guard on the sidelines, Virginia Tech’s guards were able to finally exploit the Miami defense. After two free throws from Kerry Blackshear with 1:14 left in the half, the Hokies had cut the deficit to one and the Hurricanes took just a 33-32 lead to the break.

As we have seen so many times this season, the first five minutes of either half can go so far in determining the outcome and with that lesson learned across his five years in college basketball, Rodriguez began to takeover. With Miami down 36-35, the Kansas State transfer scored 11 points on three three-pointers and a layup in a matter of just two minutes and 37 seconds. Using Rodriguez’s Steph Curry-like tear, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 49-38 lead that they would never relinquish.

“I was just out there taking what the defense was giving me,” Rodriguez said of his hot-shooting stretch. “It seemed like they were getting a little confused on the ball screens and I just had the open shots.”

After Rodriguez had his turn dominating the Hokies, it was McClellan who closed the game out down the stretch. The Texas transfer who has been a rock for this team all season scored 11 of his 21 points in the final 14:08 of the game and put Miami in a fantastic position to finally get over that quarterfinal hump.

Virginia Tech fouled until the very last seconds, but the Hurricanes showed their poise with near-perfect free throw shooting and were able to dribble the game out on their way to the 88-82 victory.

Now the play of Rodriguez and McClellan was spectacular, but there were a few silly mental mistakes, the first of which included an unfriendly exchange of words between the two teams in the first half. The moment that stood out though was what came out of Larranaga’s mouth following that scuffle, just the word, “poise.” That was all it took for this Miami team to realize its stupidity and to just get back to playing their brand of basketball.

“I tell the guys all the time to ignore all that stuff, keep their poise, not worry about anybody else but ourselves,” Larranaga said of the high tensions. “It’s not about who we play, it’s not about where we play, but it is about how we play.”

The other mistake came from Tonye Jekiri, and it is one that could have cost this team dearly. With 5:10 left, the Miami big man reached for a steal in the backcourt and was called for a touchy foul. Regardless of the quality of the call, a player with his experience can never go off on the referee, and he did just that. Not only did Jekiri receive a technical foul, but he also picked up his fifth overall foul on the night resulting in him having to ride the bench for the crucial final stretch.

“I thought for the most part there was a lot going on on the court, obviously a lot of emotion. It was very uncharacteristic of Tonye,” Larranaga said of Jekiri’s technical foul. “But I think frustration does set in if a lot of things seem to be going either against an individual or a team.

The Hurricanes got away with these moments of madness against Virginia Tech tonight, but during the rest of the ACC Tournament and in the NCAA Tournament, those types of mistakes will be punished quickly.

On a night where Miami showed what makes them so dangerous over the next few weeks, there isn’t much you can complain about. The Hurricanes had 18 team assists led by Rodriguez’s nine dimes and the team finished with four players in double figures in scoring. When this team is utilizing all of its assets and is moving the ball with efficiency, they play like one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Contrast this to just ten assists and two scorers in double figures in Blacksburg and you can understand why that game went so poorly.

The Hurricanes will now face a leap in the difficulty of the competition tomorrow night as they will face the Virginia Cavaliers. While Tony Bennett’s squad may be talented and disciplined, that is nothing these experienced Canes haven’t already faced many times in their illustrious careers.

If the greatest teacher is experience like Jim Larranaga says, than this Miami has already taken in their fair share of lessons. The team’s understanding of those lessons was on display Thursday night and their ‘A+’ performance resulted in a gutsy ACC Tournament win.