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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Angel Rodriguez stood on the court, wearing both a big smile and the flag of his native Puerto Rico around his shoulders as he celebrated with Miami teammates.
It had all ended perfectly, from the Hurricanes wrapping up an impressive three-game show to claim the Puerto Rico Tipoff championship to Rodriguez being named the most outstanding player in his return to his hometown.
Rodriguez scored 19 points and Miami took down its second straight ranked opponent, beating No. 22 Butler 85-75 on Sunday night — capping a week that made these Hurricanes look like a potential force in the Atlantic Coast Conference title chase.
When it was over, Miami — picked to finish fifth in the ACC — had shot at least 52 percent and won each game by double figures while averaging 93 points.
“It’s only November,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “Teams are going to get better. The really great teams are going to improve dramatically between now and March. And we want to be one of those teams. … Whether we’re ranked or not ranked is not the motivation.”
Ja’Quan Newton added a career-high 17 points for the Hurricanes (5-0), who followed their romp against No. 16 Utah by building a big lead again, and then protecting that advantage against a surge from Kellen Dunham and the Bulldogs.
Dunham scored 20 of his 23 after halftime, helping Butler (3-1) trim a 19-point gap to four with about 3 1/2 minutes left. But the Hurricanes hit enough free throws late to hang on, earning their second Tipoff title and first since beating Providence to win the inaugural event in 2007.
It was quite a week for the Hurricanes in San Juan, including a homecoming for Rodriguez — a senior who grew up watching a local pro team play in this same arena before coming to the mainland United States at age 15 to pursue a college scholarship.
“I know I’m going to go home very, very happy,” Rodriguez said, “because God and the coaches and the university gave me an opportunity to come to my family so that everybody could see me at once.”
Roosevelt Jones finished with 19 points and was the only offense for much of the night for Butler, which shot 44 percent. But Dunham suddenly jolted awake after a 5-for-20 effort in Friday’s win against Temple, helping Butler climb back in it only to see the Hurricanes keep answering with key baskets of their own.
“They were just in some ways the hungrier, tougher team early,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our guys responded in a good way, but tough to do that against a good team. Anytime we got close they seemed to make a big play.”
Butler: The Bulldogs made 8 of 18 3-point attempts. … Butler scored 16 points off turnovers. … Tyler Wideman had 10 rebounds.
Miami: Tonye Jekiri had 12 points and 12 rebounds. … Miami finished with a 33-30 rebounding advantage. … The Hurricanes went 20 of 22 at the foul line after halftime and 22 of 24 for the game
In addition to Rodriguez, Miami had Jekiri and Sheldon McClellan make the five-man all-Tipoff team. Butler’s Jones and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, who had 32 points and 11 rebounds in the third-place game against Temple, also made the squad.
Miami won last year’s Charleston Classic, only to return home and have home losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky. Rodriguez said players were already bringing that up after winning Sunday night.
“That to me is truly more special than just simply winning this tournament,” he said, “to know that the guys are hungry for more.”
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