At the end, when it mattered most, when the game was on the line with the score tied and 1.4 seconds left on the clock, the ball was exactly where Angel Rodriguez wanted it – at his fingertips.
The University of Miami senior guard, at 5-11 the shortest player on the court, leaped up past 6-9 Pittsburgh forward Michael Young and tipped in a rebound for the winning basket to rescue the 12th-ranked Hurricanes in a 65-63 victory at the BankUnited Center.
“We needed a little bit of luck at the end, and Angel Rodriguez provided it,” said an incredulous Miami coach Jim Larrañaga. “That tip-in, left-handed, by the way, was amazing.’’
After Pitt’s James Robinson made a three-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie the score at 63, Rodriguez waved off Larrañaga, who was considering calling a final timeout. Pitt went to a zone defense, left Sheldon McClellan wide open in the corner, and Rodriguez passed him the ball, figuring McClellan would be the hero of the night.
McClellan missed, Davon Reed grabbed the offensive rebound, and put up a shot. It clanked off the rim, and then Rodriguez jumped into the lane and tipped in the dagger.
The crowd went crazy, and even Rodriguez couldn’t believe what he had just done.
“At first, it took me a bit to sink in, like, `Wait, did I actually tip that in?’ Even though I knew I did it, it was just shocking. But once I told myself, `Yes, you did, celebrate!’ I started going crazy. I even forgot I had ball in my hands.”
Larrañaga, asked how he saw the play, grinned and replied: “I have no idea what happened. Angel found Sheldon, that was a wide-open shot and that would have been perfect ending. But he missed it and it was a mad scramble. I don’t know why in the world Angel went to the offensive boards because 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.
“That was a major league play for the smallest guy on the floor to go over everybody, time it right and tip it in.”
Rodriguez had a team-high 17 points and eight assists. Davon Reed had 12, and Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri added 10 apiece. Jekiri also grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Hurricanes improved to 19-4 overall and 8-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Pitt fell to 17-6, 6-5.
“They got the break at the end, they got the rebound,’’ said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “Good win for them, bad loss for us.’’
The Canes were sluggish in the first half, and trailed 33-29 at intermission. Larrañaga was extremely unhappy in the locker room. “To say I was concerned at halftime would be a major understatement,’’ the coach said.
He was so angry that he grabbed McClellan’s yellow basketball, clutched it tightly, and challenged every player, one by one, to wrestle it from him. They did, and they got the message loud and clear.
McClellan hit a three to open the second half, and Jekiri made three baskets in a row to give UM a 38-35 lead. A couple of Rodriguez-to-Reed alley-oops ignited the crowd, and then that game-winner.
“Angel really saved us, redeemed the whole team,’’ said Jekiri. “An amazing win.”