While most of the nation braced for record-breaking cold weather and ice storms on Sunday, South Florida warmed up significantly, as did the 15th-ranked University of Miami men’s basketball team.
Playing in front of a near-capacity crowd and 17 NBA scouts, the Hurricanes made 13 of their first 14 shots and staved off a late rally by 24th-ranked Florida State to win 80-74. It was Miami’s first home game in more than a month, and the Canes, who improved to 13-2, looked happy to be back in the friendly Watsco Center.
Sophomore guard Bruce Brown, who three days ago tweeted, “I need to step up. I will not let my team down again!”, stepped up big time. Brown looked inspired from the start, scored seven consecutive points at the end of the first half, made six critical free throws down the stretch and finished with a season-high 23 points.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga had suggested Brown watch highlights of himself to remind himself “of how good he can be.”
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Brown followed his coach’s advice.
Sophomore forward Dewan Huell, playing one of the best games of his UM career, ignited the crowd with thunderous dunks and finished with 20 points — three shy of his career best.
The smallest man on the court — UM’s electric 5-7 freshman guard Chris Lykes – made a huge impact off the bench with 18 points in 25 minutes. Lykes and Australian sharpshooter DJ Vasiljevic entered the game early in the first half and immediately created a spark.
“Lykes is extremely talented and confident, that’s what’s glaring about him,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “When you’re small like that, you have to have exceptional skills. He is a flawless dribbler. He is fearless in terms of taking it to the basket, and he has explosive speed. He’s going to be a handful in the ACC.”
His teammates agree.
“I told everyone before the season, ‘Don’t sleep on him,’ ” Brown said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before he did that in a game.”
Huell, who is 6-11, has been kidding with Lykes about his height since he arrived on campus.
“He’s so short, I always say, ‘Height over heart’ because he likes to say, ‘Heart over height,” Huell said, smiling. “His speed, athleticism and the way he plays his game style is amazing to me.”
With the score tied 20-20, UM went on a 9-0 run thanks to a Vasiljevic three-point play, a circus-play layup by Lykes and a rim-shaking Huell dunk off a dish from Lykes. At that point in the game, UM was shooting 93 percent. The Hurricanes led 45-32 at halftime.
Miami led by as many as 16 with 16:01 remaining in the game, but the Seminoles started getting to the rim more easily and hit a few big shots from behind the arc. They closed the gap to four points, 78-74, with 24 seconds to go, but Anthony Lawrence made a pair of free throws to seal the UM win.
FSU (12-3, 1-2 ACC) was led by Braian Angola with 16 points, four assists and five steals. Trent Forrest had 12 and Phil Cofer 11. The Seminoles dominated the offensive boards 21-5.
“It was two Top 25 teams going at it, and I knew we’d have to play very well to win,” Larrañaga said. “We knew when we recruited Chris the electricity he brings, and like all freshmen, he is learning. But tonight, he was in charge.”
UM plays at Clemson on Saturday and is back home on Jan. 15 against Duke.