Desperately hoping to climb out of the conference cellar, the University of Miami men’s basketball team instead saw its season unravel even further with a 78-66 loss to rival Florida State Sunday night at the Watsco Center.
Miami dropped to 9-10 overall and 1-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with upcoming games against No. 10 Virginia Tech at home Wednesday and at No. 3 Virginia on Feb. 2. It is the worst ACC start for a Hurricanes team since 2011.
How demoralizing was the loss? With eight minutes remaining and FSU ahead by 21, hundreds of Seminoles fans began chanting “F-S-U! F-S-U!” and doing the tomahawk chop. With five minutes to go, they taunted the Hurricanes with “Hey, Hey, Hey Goodbye.” More than half of the crowd of 7,122 had already exited the building by that point.
Unlike earlier games this season, when the undermanned Hurricanes held second-half leads and understandably ran out of gas, Miami struggled from start to finish against the Seminoles. FSU led for 39 minutes. The Noles raced to a 9-1 early lead and used an 11-man rotation to wear down UM’s seven players. Halfway through the first half, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton subbed out five players at a time.
The Seminoles raised their record to 15-5 and 3-4 in the conference.
Miami point guard Chris Lykes, who had been averaging 22 points in ACC games through last week, had his second poor performance in a row. He went 0-for-12 – including 0-for-7 from three-point range – and finished with a career-low one point. The previous game, a road loss at No. 13 Syracuse, he went 4-for-15 and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Asked to explain Lykes’ funk, a hoarse UM coach Jim Larranaga said: “I can’t explain it right now. He’s had back to back games that he was...the Syracuse game, the size bothered him and (Sunday), he missed some wide open looks early and I think he got a little discouraged from that...He’s a dynamic little player and we need him to play well.”
Larranaga said he will have his assistant coaches talk to Lykes and then he will meet with him.
Guard Zach Johnson led the Canes with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Sam Waardenburg added 13, DJ Vasiljevic 12, and Anthony Lawrence 11.
Florida State’s perimeter shooters were on fire, making 60 percent of their three-point shots (12-of-20) while Miami shot just 24 percent (7-of-29).
“Florida State played really well start to finish,” said Larranaga. “They shot the ball from three extremely well. It was hard for us to overcome. They made them, we didn’t, and that was the difference in the game.”
Larranaga said he could tell his players’ heads dropped after giving up some early easy baskets during a 15-0 Seminoles run. He called a time out to give them a pep talk, but said the hole was too deep to dig out of.
Hamilton, who coached at Miami from 1990 to 2000, said his team was highly motivated for the game. When they played UM earlier this month at Tallahassee, FSU won 68-62 after the Canes had closed the gap to 64-62 with 46 seconds left in the game, but the Seminoles pulled away. Miami struggled from three in that game, as well.
“I thought Miami had our attention,” Hamilton said. “Jim’s doing one of best jobs in our league because he’s had, obviously, without two big 6-11 kids, and their whole team becomes different. They have four kids that shoot really well. Of the five games they lost, four of them they were ahead late second half, including against us. We knew if we didn’t play with a lot of focus, something bad could happen. Our energy was a reflection of the respect we have for their team.”
The Hurricanes remained without forward Dewan Hernandez, who has missed he entire season while the NCAA rules on his eligibility. A decision is expected this week.