Hurricanes men’s basketball opens ACC Tournament with 88-82 win over Virginia Tech

Tonye Jekiri (23) is surrounded by his teammates after drawing a foul in the first half against Virginia Tech, March 10, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras / Collegiate Times)
Tonye Jekiri (23) is surrounded by his teammates after drawing a foul in the first half against Virginia Tech, March 10, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras / Collegiate Times)

WASHINGTON D.C. — Led by an Angel Rodriguez surge early in the second half, the No. 11 Hurricanes avenged their regular season finale loss to Virginia Tech with an 88-82 victory in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in Washington D.C. Thursday night.

The redshirt senior point guard had a rough first half, as he got into early foul trouble and scored only two points. However, he came out swinging in the second. In the first four minutes of the period he dropped in 11 points, nine of which came from three-pointers.

“I was just out there taking what the defense was giving me, and it seemed like they were getting a little confused on the ball screens and I had the open shots,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s second half scoring fury extended the Canes’ lead to 49-38 and was a pivotal moment of the game. Heading into halftime the Canes only led 33-32.

Senior center Tonye Jekiri fouled out with just over five minutes left in the game. Jekiri objected to a personal foul and erupted at the referee to earn a technical for his fifth foul of the night. Before Jekiri exited the contest, the Canes dominated the paint. At halftime, the points in the paint favored Miami 26-14.

Coming into the game, the Canes were expected to have their way in the paint, as the only consistent rebounder on the Hokies’ roster is junior forward Zach LeDay, who averages 7.8 rebounds per game. Jekiri and redshirt junior forward Kamari Murphy handled Leday, who only had four points and one rebound before Jekiri was disqualified.

However, Jekiri’s absence opened the door for LeDay, as he recorded another eight points and two rebounds in the final five minutes of the game.

Even though Jekiri fouled out with more than five minutes left, Head Coach Jim Larrañaga decided to never put reserve big man senior Ivan Cruz Uceda into the game. Larrañaga attributed Uceda’s lack of playing time to him being a poor matchup for VT’s quick speedy athletes.

The Canes (25-6, 13-5) shot a blazing hot 57 percent from the field. Much of their success can be attributed to their quick and decisive ball movement. The Canes dropped an impressive 18 dimes, led by Rodriguez who had seven himself.

Senior redshirt guard Sheldon McClellan led the way for the Canes, scoring 21 points.

Sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton had missed the final three games of the regular season, but he returned strong Thursday night. Newton added 10 points and four assists.

One area where the Canes can improve is fouling. They sent VT (19-14, 10-8) to line 31 times.

“One of the things I am little concerned with: We are top-20 in the country in not fouling. We have worked so hard as a team and as defensive players to learn the importance of not fouling,” Larrañaga said.

The Canes will take on Virginia Friday night in an ACC Tournament semifinal contest. Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m., but if the preceding North Carolina-Notre Dame matchup goes long the game start may be pushed back.