It was Superhero Night at BankUnited Center for Wednesday’s 9 p.m. game between the University of Miami and rival Florida State, and a crowd of 7,413 — largest of the season — nearly filled the building.
Students were asked to wear costumes, and some went all out. UM forward Donnavan Kirk wasn’t wearing a cape or an “S” on his chest, but he played much of the game like a man with super powers. Kirk, a graduate student who rejoined the team this year after spending three years at DePaul, played the best game of his career.
He was 6 of 6 for 14 points with four blocks and five rebounds before intermission, and finished with a career-high 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. His three-point shot with 8 minutes 4 seconds to go gave UM a four-point lead, he scored again two minutes later, Rion Brown then sank a three and it appeared the Canes were headed to victory.
That’s when the Seminoles injected the kryptonite, scoring 13 consecutive points in the waning minutes to escape with a 63-53 win that was much closer than the score indicates. Consider that the lead changed 14 times, and the score was tied seven times. The FSU fans in the crowd began doing their trademark chant as deflated UM fans exited the building.
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“I feel very fortunate to come away with a victory,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “It could have gone either way. They did an outstanding job of preparation, and 1-3 [UM’s Atlantic Coast Conference record] is not indicative of how well they’re playing. They missed a few shots down the stretch, we made a few, and that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes.”
Hamilton said UM did such a good job penetrating the normally stingy FSU defense that he switched to zone — something he says he has rarely done in recent years. “They did a great job of utilizing their big guys and neutralizing our size and we had to make an adjustment.”
A dejected UM coach Jim Larrañaga said: “We did a lot of good things, but in the last three and a half minutes, they had ways to score and we didn’t.”
Brown finished with 21 points, including the final jumper of the game to end UM’s long scoring drought. FSU was led by Aaron Thomas’ 12 points. Boris Bojanovsky and Devon Bookert added 11 apiece. The Seminoles improved their shooting from 32 percent before halftime to 61.9 percent in the second half, and that proved the difference.
Kirk and Brown were 8 of 13 from three-point range, but the rest of the Canes were 1 of 15 from beyond the arc and 4 for 31 overall.
UM (9-7, 1-3 ACC) had won four of five games heading into Wednesday, including a big road win at North Carolina’s Dean Dome last week. FSU (12-4, 3-1) has won seven of eight.
Classes resumed Monday after winter break, and UM students were in a spirited mood. A record 1,706 students showed up, the pep band was blaring and the arena was nearly full. It was exactly the kind of on-campus atmosphere Hamilton dreamed about when he coached at UM in the 1990s and his teams played at Miami Arena.
The crowd included Jimmy Graham, the New Orleans Saints tight end who played basketball at UM before switching to football after his senior season. Former UM baseball player John Jay, now with former World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, also was at the game.
And for a long while, it looked like the Hurricanes were going to come out victorious. They led 28-24 at the half and 51-50 with four minutes to go.
The Seminoles boast one of the tallest starting lineups in the conference with 7-3 Slovakian center Bojanovsky and 6-9 forwards Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist. The Hurricanes tried to combat FSU’s size by starting 7-foot sophomore Tonye Jekiri at center. He made Miami’s first basket and led UM with seven rebounds.
But in the end, when in counted most, it was the Seminoles who played like heroes.