Somewhat lost in the aftermath of Florida State freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ stunning performance at the close of the game— 26 consecutive points and 30 points in under five minutes — was Miami guard Angel Rodriguez’ play in leading Miami to the 81-77 victory Wednesday night.
Rodriguez broke out of a long shooting slump in matching his season scoring high with 25 points to lead the Hurricanes. Though he missed all three of his attempts from behind the 3-point arc, Rodriguez was 8-of-14 from the field and 9-of-12 from the free throw line and also handed out five assists and made three steals, one of which led directly to his team’s only fast-break basket when he dished to backcourt made Sheldon McClellan for a layup.
The only downside: He was assessed three turnovers, one of which was a pass that a more alert teammate could possibly have handled for an inside basket.
Needing victories to enhance its credentials for the NCAA Tournament and only three more opportunities in the regular season to get them, starting with Saturday’s visit by North Carolina (2 p.m. ET, CBS), Miami needs the Kansas State transfer to duplicate such strong play down the stretch.
One reason — not the only one but a critical one — for the Hurricanes’ up-and-down performances over the last few weeks has been the unsteady play of their team leader.
After scoring 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the win at Duke back on Jan. 13, Rodriquez went into a shooting slump over the next 11 games. He was only 22-of-103 from the field over that span (21.4 percent) and reached double figures only four times. He went scoreless in a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech.
That he didn’t lose his starting job — though he played only a season-low 15 minutes against the Yellow Jackets — is testimony to the other contributions he brings to the court, like his passing ability and defense.
Despite his shooting woes, he never lost confidence.
“I felt great,” he said when asked if he felt more confident coming into the FSU game. “I felt great coming into every game, to be honest. I had a positive mindset, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t give up on myself.”
Still, Rodrizguez credited a “great conversation with a new friend” to getting his mind right for Florida State and the games to come. That “new friend” was sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, a long-time friend of Miami coach Jim Larranaga.
Larranaga said he talks with Rotella all the time, two or three times a week, and “he tells me what I’m screwing up,” and he has encouraged Rodriguez to talk to him as well, “but most kids think it’s like voodoo, and it’s not,” the coach said. “It’s just thinking. How to think correctly.”
Monday, however, Larranaga was able to get Rodriguez on the phone with Rotella, who was in Lexington, Kentucky, working with the top-ranked Wildcats.
What turned out to be a 20-minute conversation could turn out to be a season saver for the Hurricanes. When it ended, Rodriguez hung up the phone and turned to Larranaga and assistant coach Chris Caputo and said, “I’m good.”
He then went out and started the game against Florida State by making three of his first four shots. That set him up for the rest of the evening.
“When you see your first couple shots go in the rim, the rim gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “That’s kind of what it was. The first couple shots kind of set the tone.”
The victory improved Miami to 18-10 on the season and 8-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A win over North Carolina would make the Hurricanes even with the Tars, who dropped to 19-9, 9-6 with a loss to North Carolina State in their last outing. But the Heels remain in the rankings (No. 15 in the Associated Press poll) and it would be a huge boost for their resume if the Hurricanes would get the win.
Another solid effort from Rodriquez will be needed for that to occur.