Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Rodriguez and No. 3 Miami Hold Off No. 11 Wichita State to Advance to Sweet 16

Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) celebrates his team
Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) celebrates his team /

Everything was going against the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes. A game completely flipped on its head, calls rarely going their way and a mostly-neutral crowd rooting against them. It was the perfect recipe for defeat, but the Canes and their smallest player then showed everyone why you should never call them underdogs.

Led by a career-high 28 points from 5’11” redshirt senior Angel Rodriguez, the Hurricanes held off a ferocious run from the No. 11 seed Wichita State Shockers to win 65-57 and advance to the Sweet 16 of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

“I thought the way we played defense to start the game was unbelievable. It got us off to a great start, but of course they are a terrific team, and they made a great run at us, eventually took the lead,” Jim Larranaga said after the victory. “But these guys have great heart, and they really pulled together down the stretch, made some huge plays. Davon’s block followed by the three-pointer, Sheldon’s lob dunk from Angel on the dead run, and then Angel’s three-pointer and the free throws he made down the stretch, just a tremendous team effort.”

From that start Larranaga cited, Miami looked exactly like a team that knew they were being disrespected. Despite being a 3 seed playing an 11 seed, the Hurricanes were a 2.5-point underdog according to Vegas. The Canes forced an airball and shot-clock violation on the very first possession and led by the smallest player on the court, Miami was unstoppable.

In the first 10:22 of the game, Rodriguez poured in a remarkable 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting and on the other end, the Hurricanes looked like the top defensive team in the country when the Shockers received all the plaudits coming in. Wichita State missed ten of their first 11 shots and the Hurricanes jumped out to a remarkable 27-6 lead.

While the Canes were playing perhaps their best stretch of basketball of the season, the Shockers weren’t going to go down easy. After a timeout, Gregg Marshall’s squad began to chip away at the lead. Over the next five minutes, Miami just couldn’t find the bottom of the basket and Wichita State went on an 11-0 run to make the game competitive once again.

The Canes finally picked themselves off the mat the last few minutes and were able to regain a hold in the game with a 32-19 lead heading into the half. Even with the Shockers dominating heading into the break and the Hurricanes without a field goal for the last 8:29, any Miami player, coach or fan would have taken a 13-point lead at the half.

On the other side of the break, the Hurricanes actually looked like they would cruise to victory again as Kamari Murphy slammed one home to give Miami a 38-21 lead with 17:04 left in the half. While the Shockers made a nice run in the first half to at least give themselves a chance, their second half run would put them in the lead.

Over the next seven minutes, Wichita State led by hot shooting and an absolute monopoly on the offensive glass, went on a 22-5 run and took their first lead of the game at 43-42. The Shocker faithful clad in yellow and black roared inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as the Hurricanes had watched their 21-point lead slip away.

“We just kept saying, stay together,” Rodriguez discussed. “I know it’s a lot easier to say than to do it, but we really stay together. We know at this point of the season, nobody is going to go down without fighting.”

In need of something to turn the momentum around, the Hurricanes found just that with one of their most effective weapons, an alley-oop from Angel Rodriguez to Sheldon McClellan. The Puerto Rico native received the ball and after two dribbles, Rodriguez lofted the ball from half-court to a streaking McClellan who flushed it home with authority to regain the lead.

“I think it was a very big play,” McClellan said. “Whenever Angel has the ball, I’m always relocating and trying to find space where I can get open and be effective as far as being aggressive. But we’ve done those plays so many times, it’s not a surprise to our team and our program. We’re used to doing that on the court, but it was definitely a big play for us to get some momentum.

In a game of enormous plays, Davon Reed followed that alley-oop up a few minutes later with a block on one end and showed once again why he has the Twitter handle, Clutch_REED5, with a three-pointer to put the Hurricanes up 55-48 with 4:54 left.

“Those were just some big time plays,” Reed said of his crucial stretch. “We had a lot of big time moments throughout the game, and like I said, when I shot the ball, it just felt good. I just tried to be locked in and give a boost to my team.”

Baker and the Shockers were able to pull within two once again after the NCAA Tournament’s active leading scorer laid one in, but with the shot-clock winding down on the other end, Rodriguez flipped up a wild circus shot off the glass. With the day he was having, of course it went in and Miami led 57-53 with 2:05 left.

Wichita State never got any closer and Miami hit their free throws late to snatch a 65-57 victory and secure their third Sweet 16 appearance in program history.

The win was sweet and it certainly would not have happened without Angel Rodriguez. The redshirt senior point guard who was in the crosshairs of fans with little patience earlier in the year saved his best performance ever for the biggest game he has ever played in.

“I just think the scene, it’s a lot on the line,” Rodriguez said of his magical performance. “As a team, obviously, everybody wants to advance, and I just felt good. I told Ivan in the warmups, I was like, man, today I just feel different. I felt really good energy from the team, not about just me — and I just seemed to come out on fire.”

To say he was on fire may be short-changing him too. Rodriguez finished shooting 9-of-11 from the field and made almost every free throw down the stretch in crunch time. To think he dominated against one of the best and most experienced point guards in the nation as well, Fred VanVleet, just makes his performance even more impressive.

After his 28 points tonight, Rodriguez has averaged 26 points a game in these two NCAA Tournament matchups. Remember, he came into the tournament averaging 11.7 points per game. When you talk about your leaders stepping up in March, that is exactly what it is about.

Don’t get me wrong, No. 2 Villanova and No. 7 Iowa are good, but the Hawkeyes are certainly not better than the Shockers and I would say Wichita State, even as an 11 seed, are better than the Wildcats. Going forward, there won’t be too many teams as talented as Wichita State and as experienced in the tournament as the Shockers are.

The Hurricanes got big performances from McClellan who finished with 18 points as well as Reed who finished with ten points, but Rodriguez’s performance could not have been more clutch. As we said after Thursday’s victory, in March you need your stars to shine the brightest and for the second straight game, that is just what happened for the Hurricanes.

Everything was going against Miami as Wichita State stormed back inside a raucous Dunkin’ Donuts Center, but for a team that for some reason wasn’t favorites, it was the biggest underdog of them all, Angel Rodriguez that kept Miami dancing.