Less than a week ago the Virginia Tech Hokies basked in their win over the Miami Hurricanes in Blacksburg—taking a page from North Carolina and coming at UM in an aggressive manner, a la the Tar Heels.
The upset cost Miami a share of the regular season conference crown, while VT appeared to be getting hot at just the right time.
Five days later in Washington DC, the Canes re-found their mojo and brought the streaky Hokies back down to earth, coming correct with an 88-82 victory in the Quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament—a showdown where tempers flared and 43 fouls were tallied between the former Big East foes.
Win the victory, order has been restored—for the time being—and Miami quest for post-season success rolls along.
While the Canes were far from flawless Thursday night at the Verizon Center, credit is due regarding a pair of seniors who weren’t going to be denied—guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez.
Rodriguez—who had just two points at the half; the Canes leading by one—rose to the occasion with 11 points in a three-minute span, just after the Hokies took the lead. Rodriguez drained three shots from beyond-the-arc and was good for an assist, a steal and a defensive rebound—pushing Miami’s lead to 11 points with 15:44 remaining.
Rodriguez finished with 19 points, while McClellan turned in a 21-point performance on 8-of-12 shooting and 3-of-6 from three-point range.
“Angel and Sheldon, these guys have been just tremendous,” head coach Jim Larranaga said. “They come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and execution, and tonight when Angel sees his opportunities, he’s going to take advantage of them. Sheldon the same way.”
Miami shot 56.6-percent from the floor, while Virginia Tech struggled to stop outside shots, as well as Tonye Jekiri inside. Five Hurricanes were in double-figures—Jekiri being one of them—though the senior center had a freshman moment late, keeping Miami from putting Virginia Tech away.
Up 12 with just over five minutes remaining, Jekiri was hit with a bogus foul call—but made matters worse with an outburst that earned him a technical and his fifth game foul. The Hokies immediately knocked down four free throws, cutting the lead to eight.
Rodriguez drove straight to the basket on Miami’s next possession, getting fouled and knocking down two free throws—necessary as the Canes had been settling for outside jumpers that weren’t falling, rarely getting to the line all night.
A handful of steals, turnovers and missed jumpers occurred between both teams over two and a half scoreless minutes that felt like a lifetime. McClellan got to the line, hit one of two and the lead pushed to nine, until a Zach LeDay cut it to seven with 1:53 remaining.
McClellan hit a jumper on Miami’s next possession, while Ja’Quan Newton—back from a three-game suspension in the regular season—knocked down one of two free throws, pushing the Canes’ lead back to eight.
Davon Reed, Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Rodriguez were all at the line over the next 34 seconds, going 8-for-8, keeping the pressure on Virginia Tech every possession.
An untimely foul by Rodriguez in the final seconds put Seth Allen at the line, cutting the Canes’ lead to six, but Reed made back-to-back free throws to atone for his teammate’s mistake, pushing the lead back to eight with :11 remaining.
Allen’s missed three-point attempt ended the comeback—settling for a lay-up after a rebound and time expiring, a Hurricanes win officially in the bag.
Miami accomplished it’s bottom-line goal on Thursday night; advancing in the ACC Tourney, while rebounding from it’s most-recent loss—which just so happened to be the same foe; a feisty Virginia Tech squad.
Where Larranaga and this Hurricanes team would have to admit they came up short; an inability to close against an inferior opponent, as well as a handful of mistakes and mental lapses that senior-heavy teams simply cannot commit—especially at this point of the season.
Jekiri’s mini-meltdown, Rodriguez’s late foul or the Canes’ settling for too many missed jumpers, opposed to driving the lane—it might not prove detrimental against Virginia Tech, but when a Virginia or North Carolina is the opponent, those are the little things that could end Miami’s post-season run.
The takedown of the Hokies earns the Hurricanes a Friday night showdown against the Cavaliers; a potential one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, a quality conference foe and a program that Miami split with this season.
The Canes knocked off the third-ranked Cavaliers in Coral Gables late February, 64-61. When the two met in Charlottesville mid-January, an eight-point Virginia victory as the home team pulled away late, with the road dogs unraveling a bit.
The now fourth-ranked Cavaliers have won four straight since falling to the Canes; knocking off North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville in the regular season, before rolling Georgia Tech by double-digits in the ACC Tournament.
Aside from earning a one-seed, many analysts have Virginia the second-ranked team overall entering the post-season. In short; a tall order for Miami on Friday night in Washington DC however it’s sliced or diced.
A Canes upset of the Cavaliers certainly isn’t a stretch—but it will take a much more complete and consistent effort out of Miami than the one shown against Virginia Tech on Thursday night.