For the first 30 minutes of Monday night's game between Florida and Miami, the primary storyline was the eighth-ranked Gators' ability to withstand the absence of two critical frontcourt weapons.
Then all that changed abruptly when Angel Rodriguez put his team on his back.
Rodriguez scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the final nine minutes of the second half to rally Miami to a 69-67 road victory over a Florida team that had won 33 straight at home. The point guard who transferred from Kansas State had a hand in almost every key play as the Hurricanes stormed back from a 14-point second-half deficit.
There were his back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers that launched a game-changing 18-1 Miami spurt. There was the crossover dribble he used to free himself for a go-ahead 3-pointer over counterpart Kasey Hill with 18 seconds left in the game. And there was the game-saving charge he took in the lane to prevent Eli Carter from tying the game on Florida's ensuing possession.
Miami's victory serves notice that the Hurricanes are poised to ascend in the ACC pecking order this year. Having lost all five starters from an ACC championship team in 2013, Miami suffered through a 16-loss campaign a year ago that was actually surprisingly decent considering the threadbare roster Jim Larranaga had at his disposal. Expectations are higher this season, however, thanks to the arrival of coveted transfers Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan.
Rodriguez, a former second-team All-Big 12 selection, will provide the scoring, distributing and leadership at point guard that Miami lacked last season after Shane Larkin turned pro early. McClellan, one of Texas' leading scorers as a sophomore, has the ability to carry his team with his perimeter scoring.
Before Rodriguez caught fire Friday night, it appeared Miami lacked the offensive firepower to even remain competitive with Florida, let alone spring the upset. Fierce defense, crisp ball movement and timely jump shots from Jon Horford, Michael Frazier and Carter propelled the Gators to what seemed to be an insurmountable double-digit lead given the way the Hurricanes were misfiring.
It was then that Florida's lack of depth began to catch up with it.
With Chris Walker suspended, Dorian Finney-Smith sidelined with a fractured wrist and Alex Murphy not yet eligible, Florida had to start walk-on Jacob Kurtz at one forward spot. Billy Donovan also really had nowhere else to turn when sophomore point guard Kasey Hill got careless with the basketball and struggled through a 1-for-9 shooting night.
The collapse of the Gators will probably validate preseason chatter that Florida is a tad overrated after losing four starters off last year's Final Four team. The truth is, however, that it's a bit soon to pass judgment on this team.
They lost because two starters weren't available. They lost because the guys who did play are still adjusting to increased roles. And they lost because Miami's starting point guard delivered a final nine minutes no one who saw it will forget anytime soon.
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