That’s So Angel: Miami’s Rodriguez lead the Canes to the Sweet 16

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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We got the full Angel Rodriguez Experience on Saturday afternoon, as the Miami point guard went for 28 points, five assists and four steals — to go along with seven turnovers — in a 63-57 win for the No. 3 Hurricanes over No. 11 Wichita State.

Miami will advance to the Sweet 16 to take on the winner between No. 2 Villanova and No. 7 Iowa.

Rodriguez scored 16 of Miami’s first 23 points, hitting his first seven shots from the floor as he led the way to an early, 27-6 Miami lead. Then, in a four-minute stretch midway through the first half, Rodriguez committed five of his seven turnovers, which led to the Shockers finally gaining a bit of confidence and finding a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

Wichita State would cut the led to 32-19 at the half and, after Miami pushed the lead to 17 points, go on a 22-4 surge that would give the Shockers their first lead of the game at 43-42. And that’s when Rodriguez, after disappearing for 15 minutes of game-time, made the play that changed the game, a “no-no-no-YES” half-court alley-oop to Shelden McClellan to give the Hurricanes the lead — and the momentum — back.

That is a not exactly a smart pass to throw, not when your team just fully blew a 21-point lead. It’s not an easy pass to throw, either. Markus McDuffie is about half-an-inch from turning that into Rodriguez’s eighth turnover of the game.

Instead, we get one of the best highlights of the first weekend of the tournament.

That’s so Angel.

That dunk would spark a 10-2 run that opened up a 52-45 lead for the Canes. Wichita State’s ball-pressure did not let up, as the Shockers would continue scrapping their way back into the game, but it again was Rodriguez that made the game-changing plays.

He found Davon Reed on the wing for a three that pushed Miami’s lead back to seven points after Reed blocked a layup attempt that, ironically enough, was him cleaning up the mess from a Rodriguez turnover. With just over two minutes left in the game, after a Ron Baker layup cut the Miami lead to 55-53, Rodriguez banked in a runner to push the lead back to four. On the ensuing Miami possession, he drilled the dagger, a three that put Miami back up by seven.

His five free throws down the stretch iced the game.

“It’s about this little guy right here,” Miami head coach Jim Larrańaga said after the game on the CBS Broadcast. “You’ve gotta rename the Dunkin’ Donuts Center [in Providence, where the game was played] Angel Rodriguez Park. He took over the game and carried us for a while. He made huge shots, free throws, threes, played great defense on VanVleet.”

“He’s got this huge thing right here and it keeps pounding out of his chest.”

And that’s what makes Rodriguez so unique. At times, his decision-making borders on the schizophrenic, to the point that he’s a detriment to his team. We saw that on Saturday. That stretch where he committed five turnovers in four minutes not only breathed some life into the corpse that was Wichita State in the first 10 minutes, but it kept Miami from putting the nail into the Shocker coffin. Score on three of those five possessions, and suddenly Miami is up nearly 30 points.

Wichita State was always going to make a run, but it was those turnovers that ensured that the Shockers would remain within striking distance.

But when Rodriguez is playing well? When his confidence is flowing and his shots are going down? He’s as capable of taking over a game as any point guard in college basketball not named Tyler Ulis, Kris Dunn or Yogi Ferrell. And if there is one thing we can always count on with Rodriguez, it’s that he is going to want the ball in his hands in the biggest moments.

“He always has tremendous trust in me,” Rodriguez said of his coach, “even when I struggle.”

On Saturday, that trust was rewarded. Whether or not it will be come next weekend is kind of a moot point right now.

Because what matters is that Rodriguez will have the chance to play in that game.

And if he hadn’t shown up on Saturday, that would not be the case.

“It’s survive and advance, baby,” Larrañaga said.

“And we survived.”