After wins at home over Wake Forest and Duke, Miami will be back on the road at North Carolina State Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ACC Network) to wind up the first month of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Approaching the midpoint of the 18-game conference schedule, the Hurricanes find themselves in the mix of a a half-dozen teams chasing league leader North Carolina, which is the only team yet to lose in conference play.
The 18-2 Tar Heels are 7-0 in ACC action, just ahead of 6-1 Louisville and 6-2 Clemson in the standings. The Hurricanes, who are 16-3 overall, are 5-2 in the conference, alone in fourth and just ahead of Pittsburgh and Virginia, both 5-3.
North Carolina State is near the bottom with an 11-10 overall record that includes a 1-7 conference slate.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Hurricanes will alternate between road and home appearances until the final week of the month, when they get Virginia and Louisville in back-to-back home appearances before going to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech the first week of March.
Their fortunes just may be in the hands of senior guard Angel Rodriguez. After struggling over a five-game stretch that saw him make only two of his 25 attempts from 3-point range and hand out only 16 assists, Rodriguez came alive upon returning home against Wake Forest and Duke.
After scoring 14 points and handing out two assists in the 77-63 win over the Demon Deacons, he was one his A-game against the Blue Devils. He scored 11 of his game-total 13 points in the first half and then dished out eight of his career-high 11 assists in the second half in the 80-69 win over coach Mike Krzyzewski’s club.
“When he plays at that level,” Krzyzewski said, “that takes them to a whole other step up.”
The surge came after Rodriguez had failed to score in double figures in three of Miami’s previous four games. He now has hit double digits in three consecutive games and is 5-of-12 from 3-point range the last two.
So what was the problem?
“Here’s happened in my mind,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “When we opened up conference play, we played against teams that are a little more conservative — Virginia, Clemson. With those teams, the game is a little slower. It’s not as fast.
“Today and Saturday, when you play Wake Forest or Duke, it gets up and down. Angel and our entire team is much better when we’re able to get into the open court and make plays.
“It’s not ‘run an offense,’ it’s play together, find the open man and score — whether you’re using a ball screen to beat your man and find an open man or against their zone. What we did so well midway through the first half was get it into the middle of the zone, then kick it out or shoot it.
“I’m very, very proud of the guys, and I thought Angel was sensational tonight.”