University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes, ailing Angel Rodriguez fall to No. 15 North Carolina

UM guard Manu Lecomte (20) looks to pass against North Carolina’s Marcus Paige (5) and Joel Berry II during Saturday’s game, which Lecomte started for the ailing Angel Rodriguez.
UM guard Manu Lecomte (20) looks to pass against North Carolina’s Marcus Paige (5) and Joel Berry II during Saturday’s game, which Lecomte started for the ailing Angel Rodriguez. El Nuevo Herald

Critics of Angel Rodriguez had their wish Saturday.

The Miami Hurricanes point guard, who started the season brilliantly but then ran into a month-long shooting slump, was out for much of Saturday’s game.

But it wasn’t his shot that sent him to the sideline.

It was his right wrist, which he had sprained while taking a charge in Miami’s previous game against Florida State.

Rodriguez, who had started every game previously, was on the bench Saturday, and the No. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels took advantage, defeating Miami 73-64 in an Atlantic Coast Conference game at BankUnited Center.

Miami (18-11, 8-8) has lost six of its past nine games. North Carolina improved to 20-9, 10-6.

“I’ve told people when they questioned when [Rodriguez] wasn’t shooting well,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He does a lot of other things for us.

“[Hurricanes shooting guard Sheldon McClellan] is a favorite target of Angel’s. It becomes more difficult for Sheldon when Angel is not out there.”

Ironically, Rodriguez, who has converted on just 33.0 percent of his shots from the floor this season, including 29.9 on three-pointers, had made a positive turn, scoring 25 points against FSU on Wednesday.

On Saturday, he entered the game with 14:18 left in the first half but played just three minutes, turning the ball over twice and scoring no points.

“He tried to play with just his left hand,” Larrañaga said of Rodriguez, who missed practice Thursday and Friday and the shoot-around Saturday because of the injury. “He just couldn’t do it.”

Even without Rodriguez — and with McClellan out after being charged with his fourth foul with 15:56 left in the second half — the Canes were still battling.

Reserve power forward Ivan Cruz Uceda made back-to-back three-pointers, the second with 11:39 left in the second half, to give Miami a 48-47 lead.

But that was Miami’s last advantage.

North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige made a three-pointer on the next possession, and the Tar Heels closed out the game on a a 26-16 surge.

McClellan and Cruz Uceda led the Hurricanes with 11 points each. Freshman point guard Ja’Quan Newton, helping to fill in for Rodriguez, had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and added four assists in 21 minutes off the bench.

But Miami was outrebounded 42-28 and made just 42.1 percent of its shots, including 26.1 percent on three-point attempts.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, unsolicited, mentioned Rodriguez in his postgame comments.

“You hate like the dickens for Angel to get hurt,” Williams said of Rodriguez, who is two points short of 1,000 for his college career. “He has played his tail off all year. I hope it’s not something that will linger, because he is such an important part of their team.”

The Hurricanes now close their regular season on the road at Pitt and Virginia Tech. Larrañaga said his team will have to win those two and two more in the ACC tournament to make the NCAA field.

“We’ve put ourselves in a very tough situation to make the dance,” he said.

▪ Notes: For Miami, point guard Manu Lecomte and forward Joe Thomas each made their first start since Feb. 3. Lecomte started in place of Rodriguez. … Miami center Tonye Jekiri was held to six points and seven rebounds, snapping a streak of four consecutive double-doubles for the 7-0 junior. “[Jekiri] is one of the most improved players in our league,” Williams said.

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