Florida State men's basketball escapes with road win over Miami to move atop ACC standings

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Leonard Hamilton may have said it best.

Over the course of one hectic afternoon, his Florida State men's basketball team played its best and worst halves of the season against rival Miami.

The Seminoles came out unbelievably strong, dominating in all phases on the way to a 24-point halftime lead on the road.

But from there, the script flipped. The Hurricanes, after trailing by as many as 26 points, cut the deficit to only one point with less than a minute left.

However, Isaiah Wong's would-be game-winner bounced off the rim as time expired and the Seminoles (13-5, 6-2 in ACC) escaped with a 61-60 win over the Hurricanes (14-5, 6-2) at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables Saturday.

"That just shows a little bit of where we are in terms of execution and being able to adjust to different types of defensive schemes..." Hamilton said.

"The positive thing about that is we are finding ways to win games while we are still growing and developing. If we can keep finding ways to win while we're learning and overcoming our inexperience, I think we might could end up being pretty good if we continue to keep growing and continue to find ways to win when we're not at our very, very best."

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The win moves the Seminoles into first in the ACC standings as they hold the tiebreaker over UM. Entering last Saturday's game at Syracuse and the start of this eight-day stretch, FSU was seventh in the ACC standings.

After the previous FSU-Miami game in Tallahassee on Jan. 11 was a closely-contested affair with 11 lead changes and the Seminoles winning 65-64 on a pair of RayQuan Evans free throws with less than a second left, this one didn't seem destined to remotely resemble that.

This game got out of hand quickly as the Seminoles led by 10 less than eight minutes in and extended that lead to 24 points at halftime at 43-19.

But for all that FSU did right in the opening 20 minutes, it did very little right after the halftime break. Over the final 20 minutes, the Seminoles had 18 points and 15 turnovers.

"Second half, I thought they mixed their defenses up, went to a little zone and then went to trapping us and we didn't handle the trap very well. We became very tentative," Hamilton said.

Florida State forward Wyatt Wilkes hits a three-pointer at the buzzer of the first half in the Seminoles' 61-60 road win at Miami on Jan. 22, 2022.
Florida State forward Wyatt Wilkes hits a three-pointer at the buzzer of the first half in the Seminoles' 61-60 road win at Miami on Jan. 22, 2022.

"We had a lot of good play that we can build on and we had some poor play that I think hopefully we can learn from, be much more prepared the next time we get in this situation."

Caleb Mills led the Seminoles with 16 points -- including the final six points of the game for FSU -- but also had seven turnovers.

Wong came on strong in the second half for UM, scoring 18 of his game-high 22 points after halftime.

The victory over UM is FSU's sixth straight win. That's the program's longest winning streak since FSU won 10 straight games between December of 2019 and January of 2020.

The win is also the Seminoles' ninth straight win over Miami, marking the fourth straight year FSU has swept the season series in the rivalry. It extends FSU's lead in the all-time series to 53-36.

Tale of two halves

Tale of two halves is a cliché, but it's hard to find any other way to describe FSU's roller-coaster victory over the Hurricanes Saturday.

The Seminoles did a little bit of everything to build their humongous halftime lead.

They shot it well (56.3% in the first half), limited the Hurricanes to 26.1% shooting, forced seven turnovers while committing just two themselves.

It was a case of the stars aligning in a very good way for FSU, which made the Hurricanes look like the team that is nearing the end of a brutal stretch of four games in eight days instead of the Seminoles.

"Just taking pride in guarding the ball, being in the right spots in help position, rebounding. The three things you can control: defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball," Mills said.

"That was a major difference, controlling what we can control, and then our offense was clicking too. That's what led to the big lead."

FSU senior guard Anthony Polite led the way with 13 first-half points. His five made field goals in the opening 20 minutes were only one less than the six Miami's entire team had.

But when the worm turned early in the second half, it did so in a major way. The Hurricanes outscored FSU 41-18 in the second half, shooting 45.2% from the field.

After UM made just 1 of 12 first-half three pointers, it made 6 of its 13 perimeter shots over the final 20 minutes.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, had over twice as many second-half turnovers (15) as they did second-half made field goals (7).

Hamilton believed that FSU's fatigue at the end of this current stretch contributed to the Seminoles' second-half collapse.

"I think four games in eight days kind of took a toll there..." Hamilton said.

"I was concerned all morning about what four games in eight days would do. I was pleasantly surprised in the first half when we came out and played with a lot of energy...

"The second half, two minutes in, I only had one starter on the floor. I think that had a little bit to do with us being sluggish and not as quick and aggressive to the ball in the second half."

Mills was the only FSU player to score more than four points in the second half, scoring eight points in each half.

Up Next

While the stretch of four games in eight days is over, FSU still doesn't get too much time to rest. After three days off, the Seminoles are back in action Wednesday when they play at Georgia Tech (7-10, 1-6 in ACC) in a rematch of last year's ACC Championship Game.

The game will be broadcast on ACC Network at 9 p.m.

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FSU basketball extends rivalry winning streak over Miami to nine games

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