Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan combined for 44 points, 12 boards and six assists as No. 3 Miami held on to be a scrappy No. 14 Buffalo team, 79-72.
Buffalo jumped out to an 15-6 early lead and would have tied the score at the half had a coast-to-coast layup beaten the halftime buzzer. But in the second 20 minutes, Miami was able to finally create some separation. Rodriguez and McClellan sparked a 14-5 spurt that opened up a 49-38 lead, and the Bulls never seriously threatened the Hurricanes the rest of the way.
The big news for Miami was the play of Rodriguez.
The former Kansas State point guard is one of the nation’s most fickle players. When he’s good — as he was on Thursday night — he’s one of the better point guards in college basketball. The problem is that he’s not always this good, and when he’s not this good, he’s downright bad. There’s really no middle ground, either. Miami is either getting Good Angel or Bad Angel, and the difference is how dangerous Miami is when Good Angel shows up is drastic.
If the Hurricanes are to make a run in this tournament, they’re going to have to beat either No. 6 Arizona or No. 11 Wichita State in the next round, both of whom play a style of defense that will be tough on Rodriguez and the Canes. Star guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are the engines of a defense that ranked first nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and while Arizona doesn’t a series of elite individual defenders, they do have a one of the nation’s best defensive coaches in Sean Miller. Those guys will be in position and they will be disciplined even if they are susceptible to getting beaten off the dribble.
Rodriguez, for better or for worse, will be the difference maker.
On Thursday, the difference he made resulted in a Miami win and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.