A larger and louder-than-usual crowd of 6,556 showed up at the BankUnited Center Thursday night for a battle between two teams that had beaten Duke and are clawing to break into the top third of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The University of Miami wound up outlasting North Carolina State 65-60 in a thrilling game that was still up in the air with a minute to go. Miami students returned from winter break last week, and their energy was palpable as the Hurricanes knocked down nine three pointers, survived a breakout game by Wolfpack freshman Abdul-Malik Abu, and sealed the win with clutch free throws by Angel Rodriguez in the waning seconds.
“A terrific win,” said UM coach Jim Larrañaga.
“Kind of a must-win,” said UM guard Sheldon McClellan, who led the Canes with 16 points and 10 rebounds while keeping N.C. State guard Trevor Lacey in check most of the night.
Rodriguez made up for a poor shooting night against Notre Dame with 14 points, including four clutch free throws in the final 22 seconds. Davon Reed and Omar Sherman added 10.
Larrañaga met with Rodriguez on Wednesday because he felt the team captain was slacking in practice.
“Of course he’s gonna get on me more than anybody else because I’m the captain, I’ve got to set the example. It’s not just a title, it’s a lot of responsibility,” said Rodriguez.
Larrañaga explained: “All players have a certain personality in the game. Angel’s is so strong that when he’s right, he has a tremendous impact on our team. When he’s not, also has tremendous impact, but not in the right direction. I wanted to make it clear to him that it’s not just about games, big games. It’s about the daily routine, practicing hard all the time, sending a message to teammates that you’re ready to play.”
He was ready on Thursday.
The Hurricanes (13-5, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) spent all week preparing for N.C. State’s three-point sharpshooters, and they knew the Wolfpack big men are beefier than most. But they couldn’t have predicted that Abu would have the breakout half of his young career.
How could they have? Abu was averaging 4.8 points per game. His season-high was 11 against Charleston Southern.
On Thursday night, Abu scored the Wolfpack’s first 12 points. It was UM 18, Abu 12 after 11 minutes. By halftime the 6-8 freshman had 14 on 7-of-10 shooting and the Hurricanes trailed 33-26. Abu finished with 19.
Miami countered with six three-pointers — two by James Palmer, two by Reed, and one each from Rodriguez and Sherman. But then, the Wolfpack (13-7, 4-3) took over, ending the half on a 15-2 run.
Larrañaga challenged his players at halftime to “stop them from getting easy shots.” They did, and took the lead early in the second half.
The crowd went crazy with seven minutes to go, when Rodriguez made the most spectacular play of the night. He stole the ball from Cody Martin near the UM basket, dribbled behind his back on the break to get around a defender, and found high-flying Davon Reed for the alley-oop.
The Hurricanes went up 40-37 on the play.
▪ A fan behind the N.C. State bench pushed Wolfpack guard Anthony “Cat” Barber near the end of Thursday night’s game. The University of Miami issued a formal apology to N.C. State for the incident.
“After tonight’s game I was made aware of an incident involving one of our fans and a North Carolina State University student-athlete,” UM athletic director Blake James said. “First I want to apologize to the student-athlete involved, Coach Mark Gottfried and North Carolina State University. This type of behavior is not representative of the University of Miami or our athletic program, and will not be tolerated. We will review the video and discuss with the ACC the appropriate actions in addressing this issue.”
▪ Miami Hurricanes freshman guard Deandre Burnett did not play. No immediate explanation was given after the game.