Down fifteen in the second half on the road against a top-10 team, Miami looked finished last night. But Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez had different ideas. Rodriguez dominated the last nine minutes, scoring 22 points including the Hurricanes’ final 11 of the game. His heavily contested triple with 18 seconds remaining won the game, and in so doing gave a lot of credence to those of us who were already bullish on Miami during the preseason (ahem). The win comes with an asterisk: Florida’s frontcourt was in awful shape. Devon Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith were injured, and fellow ACC-departure Alex Murphy won’t become eligible until January. Sophomore forward Chris Walker was also still suspended. This left Billy Donovan with no depth to speak of, so he started walk-on Jake Kurtz alongside Jon Horford underneath. But this was still a huge win for Miami, showing that Rodriguez has emerged as a bona fide leader. And most importantly, no one will remember all of Florida’s injuries in four months. This is the kind of win that looks great on a March resume and gets a middling ACC team into the Big Dance.
In retrospect, it should have been obvious that Rodriguez would take over this year. He was a prolific scorer who managed to have strong efficiency numbers despite poor field goal percentages at Kansas State. And he’s exactly the piece Miami was missing last season (no offense to Rion Brown). Manu Lacomte has a lot of potential, but he’s not the focal point of an offense. That said, Rodriguez is a mercurial player. It’s easy to forget that he started 1-of-6 for two points in the first 31 minutes of the game (he finished with a 6-of-8 run, including five made threes). He will have some nights where the shots just aren’t falling, and the only other player on the team who looks capable of lighting up the scoreboard is Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan. McLellan had a quiet game last night, but he scored 19 points in the Hurricanes’ season opener on Friday against Howard. Like Rodriguez, he’s not an efficient shooter, but he makes his money at the foul line. He also does a much better job in holding onto the ball.
When it’s all said and done, Jim Larranaga needs to find some balance or Miami will be a roller coaster team this season. The squad is still very young across the roster and it relies heavily on two players who haven’t shot the ball consistently over the course of their careers. This win over Florida, though, shows that Miami has major heart. It also shows that there’s legitimately good reason to be excited about the middle of the ACC pack this season. Most importantly, thought, it gives Miami what should be a great win to present to the Selection Committee in March. And that’s what everybody is playing for.