Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Rodriguez and McClellan Power No. 3 Miami Past No. 14 Buffalo 79-72

Mar 17, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) drives past Buffalo Bulls guard Lamonte Bearden (1) during the first half of a first round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) drives past Buffalo Bulls guard Lamonte Bearden (1) during the first half of a first round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Two years ago, Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez sat in suits on the bench as they watched the Miami Hurricanes go 17-16 and fail to make the NCAA Tournament. The two watched the 2013 edition from home, hoping to make it into March Madness once again in their last two years in college basketball. On Thursday night in Providence, RI, they made sure they wouldn’t be watching the NCAA Tournament from the sidelines anytime soon.

Miami’s two most experienced players combined for 44 points and the No. 3 Hurricanes beat the No. 14 Buffalo Bulls 79-72 to move on to the second round against No. 11 Wichita State.

“Well, I think, especially in March, where you play teams that you’ve never faced and probably you’ve never seen them on TV, it’s a challenge at first. As you could see, it was for us,” Angel Rodriguez said after the win. “We just kept fighting and fighting, and it seemed like a few plays gave the team a lot of energy. That’s the beauty of this team. We just need one little thing to get us going, and today we found it on the defensive end.”

The Hurricanes’ redshirt senior duo finished the game well, but as Rodriguez said, it certainly did not begin that way. A huge concern for the Canes coming in was the three-point shooting ability of the Bulls and from the tip, that concern manifested itself inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Buffalo hit four three-pointers, three of which came from forward Nick Perkins in the first 5:01 and the Bulls took an early 12-4 lead.

“I asked my players after the game, have we ever played a team this season that had a five man that shot threes, and the answer was no,” Jim Larranaga said of Perkins after the game. “We really knew that Perkins could make the three and we were hoping he would miss early on, but he didn’t.”

Unlike some favorites that get flustered by a slow start in March or some unexpected matchup they have not faced all year, the Hurricanes were just fine. Miami began to chip away at the lead behind their two aggressive leaders and the Canes cut the deficit to 19-16. With Buffalo up 25-20, the Canes needed just 54 seconds to completely flip the game around. With the Bulls and their fans thinking upset, Miami unleashed a ferocious attack that resulted in seven points in less than a minute and was capped off with an alley-oop from Rodriguez to Davon Reed. After being behind for so long, the Hurricanes wouldn’t relinquish the lead again.

McClellan continued to attack and Kamari Murphy did all the little things for Miami as he grabbed six points, six rebounds and had three blocks in the first half. Headed to the break though, the Hurricanes were far from out of the woods as they led just 35-33.

Out of the half, the Canes were just as efficient offensively, but they turned up the heat defensively and that was the difference. The Bulls started the half 1-of-6 shooting and couldn’t continue that magic that put gave them the advantage early on. Using a similar formula to what Buffalo did to begin the game, Miami hit two three-pointers in a row from Angel Rodriguez and Davon Reed and pushed their lead to 49-38 with 13:34 left in the game.

Down the stretch, it was Rodriguez and McClellan attacking and making free throws and Murphy continuing to dominate the boards as well as contribute offensively.  After two makes at the charity stripe from McClellan, Miami extended their lead to 70-61 with 4:13 left, but in March, no team is ever going to go down easy.

Blake Hamilton nailed a three-pointer to cut Miami’s lead to 70-64 and after split free throws from Murphy and McClellan, the Bulls looked poised to make the last few minutes interesting. Lamonte Bearden hit a tough floater with 1:56 left and Miami’s lead was cut to just 72-68. With the Buffalo crowd and neutrals rising to their feet, Angel Rodriguez stepped to the line after being fouled and calmly nailed two free throws to extend the lead to six with just over a minute remaining.

Buffalo kept their hopes alive with a late three, but the composure from McClellan and Rodriguez at the free throw line was just enough for the Hurricanes to hold on to a 79-72 victory and move on to the second round.

“Well, I’ve told the players over and over again, when you get to the NCAA Tournament, if you want to advance, you can’t just play good, you have to play great,” Larranaga said. “You’ve got to find different ways to win the game. Primarily you have to play great defense. You have to rebound the ball very well. We won the rebound battle today by double figures. And you’ve got to share the ball and find the open man, which we did.”

Miami’s redshirt seniors as they have in pretty much every big game this season showed up when the team needed them the most. They could have shriveled under the pressure of March as Buffalo led early or charged back late, but they led both by example and by their performance to secure the victory.

While Rodriguez and McClellan were the stars of the show, there is no doubt that Miami’s balance was vital to the victory. One of those big performances came from Kamari Murphy who finished with his first double-double of the season, pitching in 11 points and 13 rebounds.

“I really wasn’t thinking about numbers during the game. I was just thinking about playing as hard as I can,” Murphy said when he was informed of his double-double. “I knew if I came out and did my job and these guys did their job, we would get the W, and we did. Overall I’m happy. Now that I see the numbers, I’m happy with my performance, but it was all for the team.”

Davon Reed was a factor as always as he too picked up his first double-double of the season with ten points and a season-high 12 rebounds. Then you had Ja’Quan Newton who came off the bench to score ten points as well. What makes this team so dangerous is the numerous amount of scoring options and in March, that can take you far.

“That’s one of the great things about this team, you can’t just lock in on me or Angel or Davon and Ja’Quan. We have a lot of guys on this team that can score,” McClellan said of the team’s balanced scoring. “That’s why I really don’t put a lot of pressure on myself as far as being too much of an aggressor during the game. We have a lot of guys that can contribute on the team and that’s the beauty of this team.”

Overall this season, Miami is 16-3 now when at least four scorers are in double figures and as the Canes move forward, that balance will be important.

Getting multiple players involved and scoring is key, but as tonight showed with 24 points from Rodriguez and 20 points from McClellan, Miami’s stars need to shine under the bright lights of March Madness for them to go far. With the way these two show up in the biggest of games, I don’t expect for them to be watching the NCAA Tournament on the sidelines or at home anytime soon.