Hurricanes hang on for 79-72 win over Buffalo in first round of NCAA Tournament

That wasn’t the most comforting start to the NCAA Tournament, to say the least. The Hurricanes trailed by nine in the early going and led by just four with less than two minutes to play, but No. 3 seed Miami is still alive and well after beating No. 14 seed Buffalo 79-72 in the Round of 64 on Thursday night in Providence, Rhode Island.

As usual, redshirt senior guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan led the Canes in scoring with 24 and 20, respectively, but Kamari Murphy’s all-around performance pushed Miami past a tough Buffalo squad. The redshirt junior forward notched his first double-double of the season with 7:32 left in the game and finished the night with 11 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.

Rodriguez kept the Canes in the game after a hot start by Buffalo in the first half. The veteran from Puerto Rico nailed key free throws down the stretch and finished with seven rebounds and four assists to go with his game-high 24 points.

“He’s just a great floor-general. He’s a real leader; he’s got lots of energy and lots of fight,” Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said of Rodriguez to TNT’s Evan Washburn after the game. “He’s got a big heart. He loves to compete in an event like this. He just wants to win, that’s all he cares about.”

Buffalo (20-15) jumped out to an early 12-4 not even five minutes into the game when forward Nick Perkins drained his third three and the team’s fourth in five attempts. Turnovers by Miami kept Buffalo in the lead but the Bulls lost their shooting stretch as the half went on. The Canes tied it at 25 on a steal followed by a layup from sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton, and then took the lead 37 seconds later on an alley-oop from Newton to junior guard Davon Reed.

The Canes (26-7) never trailed again after that alley-oop and led by as many as 12 in the second half. The Bulls consistently answered Miami on the other end though whenever the Canes tried to pull away toward the end of the game. Lamonte Bearden hit a three to bring the Bulls within four at the two-minute mark, but Miami made enough free throws down the stretch to stave off the upset.

“Making all those free throws down the stretch is huge because you’re going to be in close games throughout the tournament,” Larrañaga said. “I thought our defense, despite the incredible shot making that [Buffalo] did, was pretty good. We got to do a better job the next time out.”

Miami went into the break up 35-33 by relentlessly attacking the basket. The Canes outscored the Bulls 24-6 in points in the paint, although Buffalo’s bench dominated Miami’s with a 20-4 advantage. McClellan led all players with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting to go with four rebounds.

Five Canes scored in double digits and Newton was the only Miami player to register a point off the bench. Miami finished 24-of-54 (44.4 percent) from the field and 26-of-34 (76.5 percent) on free throws. Although Buffalo made 10 threes to five for Miami, the Canes dominated the Bulls on the glass 44-31.

The Canes next play on Saturday in the Round of 32 against the winner of the Arizona-Wichita State matchup.