The Hurricanes inched closer to clinching at least a share of the ACC regular-season title with their 68-50 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend on Wednesday night. If Miami beats Virginia Tech on Saturday and North Carolina loses to Duke, the two teams would be co-champions for the ACC regular-season title.
Led by the play of redshirt senior guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, the Canes dominated the Irish on both ends of the court. Rodriguez scored 19 points and added five boards and four assists, while McClellan dropped in 17 points and six rebounds.
Rodriguez not only led the Canes offensively, but he did a great job defending Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson, who leads the Irish (19-10, 10-7) in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Rodriguez bottled the crafty guard up, limiting him to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field.
Senior center Tonye Jekiri had a tough matchup against Notre Dame’s center Zach Auguste, who is second in the ACC in rebounding. Both big men played well, but statistically Auguste had the better night with 18 points and 11 rebounds to Jekiri’s 14 and nine. However, on the court Jekiri was visibly the better defender, as he was key in the Canes’ pick and roll defense and he altered many shots in the paint.
The second half of the game was not competitive, as the Canes built a large lead in the first. Rodriguez’s play was pivotal throughout the night, but his work in the early going was essential to the Canes’ early lead. He accounted for Miami’s first seven points.
The Canes continued to dominate the first half, as they were up 25-8 at the midway point. Notre Dame responded by switching to a 2-3 zone defense, which slowed the Canes down on offense. Miami went scoreless the next three minutes, but still went into the breakup 35-22.
McClellan has been one of the top shooters in the nation all season long. He hit two deep NBA triples in the game that silenced the Notre Dame crowd.
The Canes (24-5, 13-4) were without sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton, who was suspended for the final three regular season games due to a violation of team rules last Saturday. Newton scored 12 points off the bench in Miami’s 79-70 win over Notre Dame in Coral Gables last month.
The Canes finish their regular season against Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Blacksburg, Virginia.