Angel Rodriguez found himself in familiar territory Saturday night as he stood at the free-throw line in front of a roaring crowd, calmly in control of the fate of the game. He sank both of his shots effortlessly, much to the dismay of the NCAA season-high crowd of 30,677 at the Carrier Dome. The Canes beat Syracuse 66-62.
It was a historic night for Coach Jim Larrañaga and Tonye Jekiri, center.
Larrañaga picked up his 550th career win and 301st conference win, while Jekiri had the night of his career, sealing a double-double in the final few minutes of the game, which included 13 points, 3-for-4 free throws and 15 rebounds. He leads the ACC with 10 average rebounds per game. He also picked up three blocks, the same amount that Syracuse had as a team.
Despite Syracuse going on a 12-2 run right before the half and cutting Miami’s lead to one with only a few minutes left in the game, the Hurricanes tamed the Orange with strict coverage of senior forward Rakeem Christmas. With double coverage on Christmas, they were able to hold him to only five points in the first half.
In a game where momentum shifted greatly over the course of 40 minutes, the Hurricanes were able to cling to a lead for nearly the entire game, thanks to bench points and free throws.
Miami had four bench scorers who totaled 15 points, including a clutch 3-pointer from point guard Manu Lecomte in the last 23 seconds of the game, compared to Syracuse’s three bench points. Also, Syracuse’s abysmal 42.1 percent free-throw shooting proved to be a major problem when Christmas missed a game-changing two free throws in the final 10 seconds.
Miami has improved to sixth place in the ACC with a now 4-2 conference record while snapping a four-game losing streak against the Orange. The Hurricanes have shown their ability to play up against top-ranked opponents, as both ACC losses were to No. 2 Virginia, which went into double overtime, and then No. 12 Notre Dame after leading for 29 minutes.
They now must focus on the chemistry between transfers Rodriguez and McClellan, who teamed up for two SportsCenter-worthy alley-oops in the second half, as well as consistency behind the arc.
Free-throw and three-point consistency must be improved, as Miami can be a team that lives and dies by the three-pointer. No Hurricane shot from the line until 18:13 in the second half, so they must be more proactive in drawing fouls.
With ACC play in full swing for the Hurricanes, they look to continue to climb the ladder against Georgia Tech, Florida State, No. 10 Louisville and Clemson in the next two weeks.
The red-hot 14-5 Hurricanes will take on Georgia Tech, who has yet to win an ACC matchup, at 9 p.m. Wednesday in the BankUnited Center.