The past month has been a quirky one for the Canes. Since topping rival Florida State at home in mid-January, Miami is 6-3—all three losses coming on the road, while playing some dominant basketball in Coral Gables.
The Canes notched road wins at Boston College weeks back and Georgia Tech last Sunday, but have struggled in the houses of quality ACC foes like Virginia and Clemson.
At home, Miami either comes together and plays complete basketball—as witnessed in a rout of Duke weeks back—or simply finds a way; on display Tuesday night when guard Angel Rodriguez tipped in the game-winner against Pittsburgh (on a night where the Canes struggled with offensive rebounding, no less.)
Down by four at the half against the Panthers, UM head coach Jim Larranaga went with an impromptu locker room halftime drill to wake his team up; challenging players one-by-one to wrestle it away from him. The result; a more spirited second half from the Canes—beyond necessary as the home team once trailed 27-19 in a first half.
“He really wanted us to be passionate and play with energy,” Rodriguez said about Miami’s spirited leader. “It ended up working. It got everybody going.” Larranaga’s comments on Rodriguez’s tip-in were tongue-in-cheek, though accurate.
“I don’t know why in the world Angel went to the offensive boards,” Larranaga said. “Point guards are really not supposed to do that. But he didn’t listen to me throughout the game anyway, so I’m glad he didn’t listen at the end.”
Prior to Larranaga joking with the media, the Canes head coach was doing all he could to help his team preserve the win. Miami led by seven with just over two minutes remaining, but found the game tied on the final possession.
Davon Reed missed a late three-point attempt, while Tonye Jekiri missed back-to-back free throws after a clutch defensive rebound and a foul. James Robinson hit his three-ball, tying the game with :31 and Sheldon McClellan failed to answer when his number was called with :09 remaining.
After Robinson’s make, Larranaga went against calling the timeout, keeping the crowd on its feet and riding a wave of momentum that would either lead to a win, or overtime. McClellan’s miss set up the would-be tip from Reed, only to give the under-six-foot Rodriguez a chance to fly under the radar and to make some magic.
“He redeemed the whole team,” Jekiri said of Rodriguez. “We don’t want to lose at home. Just an amazing win.”
Jekiri’s sentiment about protecting home court rings strong, but what can the Hurricanes do to bring that type of energy and pride to the road? Outside of smacking up lesser foes in their house, Miami still isn’t road-tough as the regular season draws to a close.
The Canes pulled away against Yellow Jackets in Atlanta days back—going blow-for-blow the final 13 minutes after Miami’s lead was cut to one.
Georgia Tech pulled to within three with just over two minutes remaining, but a Ja’Quan Newton three-pointer swung moment the Canes’ way and from there, UM closed by making 7-of-8 from the free throw line, keeping the hard luck Ramblin’ Wreck at arm’s length.
Contrast that road win to a home victory days prior against a Notre Dame squad sitting right on that Top 25 bubble. Anthony Lawrence Jr. came off the bench for 21 minutes and had a breakout game for Miami—leading all scorers with 18 points and going 4-for-4 beyond-the-arc.
Meanwhile leading rebounder Zach Auguste was in foul trouble early for the Irish, leaving the game in the first half while Miami led, 18-17. When he returned in the second half, Notre Dame faced a 12-point deficit and never recovered.
Rodriguez, McClellan and Newton each poured in 12 points apiece as the Canes shot 63-percent in the first half and finished at 56-percent by the final buzzer.
Seven games remain for Miami before the focus shifts to the post-season—including four tough road games at Florida State (2/14), North Carolina (2/20), Notre Dame (3/2) and Virginia Tech (3/5). Things get ratcheted up a notch at home, too as Virginia (2/22) and Louisville (2/27) come to town. (The Canes also get the Hokies at home on 2/17.)
ACC supremacy is on the line; as well as seeding for the conference tournament. The 19-4 Hurricanes also have to be thinking bigger picture as national seeding is also in play.
The current conference standings have the Tar Heels and Cavaliers leading the pack. The Canes are currently third, followed by the Cardinals and Fighting Irish—all of whom Miami will get a crack at head-to-head.
23 games are in the books, but the next seven will define the season for the Canes. Will they play like the unfocused bunch that needed a halftime reboot on Tuesday night, or can they channel their head coach’s motivation without being backed into a corner and forced to respond?
Check back Sunday in Tallahassee to see how the first step in the journey plays out.