Hurricanes men’s basketball advance to Sweet 16 with 65-57 win over Wichita State

Redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan goes up for a dunk in the first half of Saturday's game against Wake Forest at the BankUnited Center. The Canes won 77-63 and face Duke Monday evening. Matthew Trabold // Contributing Photographer

If you blacked out from Angel Rodriguez’s unconscious start, or when Wichita State somehow took the lead midway through the second half, you missed Miami earn its third trip to the Sweet 16 in program history on Saturday afternoon in Providence, Rhode Island. The third-seeded Hurricanes perhaps embraced March Madness a little too much in its 65-57 win over 11th-seeded Wichita State, but they are now one of only 16 teams with a chance at a national title.

Rodriguez led all players with a career-high 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting. In a move surprisingly permitted by the NCAA, the redshirt senior guard morphed into Steph Curry for the first 12 minutes of the game. Rodriguez scored 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting to put the Canes up 27-6 at the 8:26 mark of the first half.

“It’s about this little guy right here,” Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said of Rodriguez after the game. “They got to rename the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to Angel Rodriguez Park because he took over the game and just carried us for a while and then made huge shots, free throws, threes, played great defense on [Fred] VanVleet.

It’s a great team win. It’s survive and advance baby, and we just survived.”

Rodriguez deflected the praise back to Larrañaga after the emotional win.

“He always had tremendous trust in me even when I struggled. He’s supportive of everybody and that’s the type of coach he is and that’s why we play the way we play, because we respect him and love him so much,” Rodriguez said.

Sheldon McClellan twice just missed on throwing down alley-oops in the first half. He had no problem slamming home a midcourt feed from Rodriguez with 9:29 left in the second half to end a shocking 11-0 run by Wichita State to take a one-point lead. McClellan’s dunk energized a stunned Miami squad that had just seen a 21-point advantage evaporate, and gave the Hurricanes a lead they would not give up again.

Wichita State (26-9) was not your standard No. 11 seed. The Shockers were the seventh-ranked team and best defensive group in the nation on coming into the matchup. Wichita State was even a two-point favorite coming into the game.

“I feel like a lot of times the so-called experts and everybody doesn’t give us a lot of credit, but we just need to play our game,” Rodriguez said. “If they don’t want to respect us, oh well, we’re just trying to win games.”

Miami took a 32-19 lead into the break. Wichita State avoided a total blowout by going on an 11-0 run with senior center Tonye Jekiri on the bench due to foul trouble. The Hurricanes (27-7) struggled to defend the Shockers when Jekiri left the game at the midway point, and had trouble scoring as Wichita State switched up its defense. The Canes didn’t make a shot the final 8:27 of the half but they maintained a double-digit lead throughout thanks to their scorching start on both ends.

Although the Shockers averaged 9.7 turnovers per game coming into the matchup, Miami’s defense forced nine takeaways by the 8:46 mark of the first half. Wichita State’s 19 points was the team’s fewest in a first half all season.

Miami shot 55.3 percent from the field overall and held Wichita State to just 33.9 percent shooting. Although the Canes were outrebounded 33-26, redshirt junior forward Kamari Murphy led all players with seven rebounds to go with four points and two blocks.

The Canes next play the winner of Sunday’s matchup between Villanova and Iowa in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky on Thursday.