CORAL GABLES — Credit Miami for exposing one of college basketball’s little-known secrets: it’s easier to play at home than on the road.
(What, you hadn’t heard? It’s true.)
Sarcasm aside, the 15th-ranked Hurricanes (13-2, 2-1 ACC) proved true that longstanding theory Sunday. Back in the friendly confines of the Watsco Center after more than a month on the road, UM shot the lights out early and held on for an 80–74 win over 24th-ranked Florida State (12-3, 1-2).
Five takeaways from the game:
Message received. Jim Larranaga had been far from happy with his team’s play of late, blasting them last week for poor decision-making on offense and too many turnovers. It seemed at first they didn’t listen, committing five giveaways in the first five minutes. They had 10 the rest of the way. But here was a good sign: the ball movement Larranaga wanted was there, and the Canes’ shooting touch returned. Miami scored 80 points for the second time in its last eight games.
“I saw tremendous energy at the shootaround,” Larranaga said. “That was a good sign. … We’re back [home] now. We’ve got things to work on and time to improve and we’ll do that.”
For most of the night, Miami found shooters in rhythm, made mostly smart decisions, and used its athleticism to beat defenders one-on-one, and finished strong at the rim. Miami opened 13-of-14 from the floor and finished at 51 percent after shooting just 9-of-25 in the second half. FSU, which shot 36.4 percent and made a season-low 5-of-24 of its 3-point attempts, couldn’t keep up.
The Seminoles, led by senior guard Braian Angola (16 points), lost the lead with 13:37 left in the first half and never regained it. Miami led by as many as 16 early in the second half and held on as FSU cut it to four points when Angola hit a 3 with 24 seconds left. The Canes showed mettle and finished the game at the line, where they made 15-of-20. They entered the game ranked 342nd of 351 Division I teams in free-throw percentage (63 percent).
Putting on a show. UM reserved 17 seats for NBA scouts on press row. Whomever showed probably left with a few notes on Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell.
Miami’s pair of standout sophomores were excellent. Huell, the ACC’s leader in field goal percentage (.655 entering the game) hit 8-of-12 shots and scored 20 points with eight rebounds. Had he hit the ill-advised 3 he took with under five minutes left, the crowd noise might have blown out bulbs on the center-court video board. While that isn’t a part of his game, he has added an array of hooks, runners and off-the-glass shots to his game. His awareness of what to do offensively has skyrocketed. He is no doubt among the most improved players in the ACC.
“I think he’s only scratching the surface,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I think he’s going to be an All-ACC player.”
Brown showed his ability to finish, scoring a season-high 23 points on 5-of-8 shooting after shooting 33 percent or less in four of his previous six games. He cooled slightly after pouring in 13 in the first half, but was effective without the ball, assuming the main ballhandling duties with Ja’Quan Newton on the bench in the second half. He also closed 12-of-14 at the line, a major positive for a player operating at a 55.3 percent clip coming in.
Larranaga thought it was funny how in practice Saturday, “we did not make a shot.” He said he advised Brown to watch highlights of himself, to remind himself he’s a good player.
After the game, Brown went to his coach and said: “I did.”
Fan favorite. The most popular Hurricanes player at the moment, judging by fan reaction when his name is called by the public address announcer, is Chris Lykes.
The 5-foot-7 freshman point guard simply has no fear. On multiple occasions, he sliced to the basket through rush-hour traffic and scored, using his guts and guile. He rose up and sank a pair of threes. He put in a career-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and the crowd bubbled whenever he had the ball in his hands. They exploded and stood on their feet when he made a runner to beat the shot clock late in the fourth quarter. He was strong on defense, tying up a 7-footer for a jump ball and forcing a key turnover on a fast-break layup without fouling.
“Tonight he was really in charge,” Larranaga said.
He even made a between-the-legs, around-the-world layup on a fast break after a foul was called with 44.6 seconds left. It didn’t count, but everyone except the traveling Seminoles fans went bananas over it.
Even Huell made sure to mention it in the postgame media session, after none of the reporters did. “How about it?” he asked.
“He’s extremely talented and confident,” Hamilton said. “When you’re small like that, you have to have exceptional skills. … He’s going to be a handful.”
Tickets for Miami’s next home game, Jan. 15 against Duke, were going for $78 and up on StubHub on Sunday night. Lykes is worth much of that price.
Other than that … Miami didn’t need much else, but didn’t get much else offensively.
No other Cane scored in double-figures, with DJ Vasiljevic, who struggled shooting (3-of-10 from the floor, 1-of-6 on 3-pointers), chipped in eight points, four assists and three rebounds in 27 minutes.
Miami’s rebounds leader (Anthony Lawrence Jr., 12) and assists leader (Newton, four) nearly finished with zero points each. Lawrence, who had a team-high five turnovers but used his long arms to snatch boards, missed both his shots from the floor but grabbed a rebound and sank a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left.
Newton, who can be turnover-prone, had two. He missed the only shot he took in 17 minutes and played just six minutes in the second half. Same goes for guard Lonnie Walker, who like Newton, played six minutes over the final 20. Newton, the team’s only senior and starting point guard, averages 28.5 minutes. Walker, the high-flying freshman, averages 21.4.
He finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting and committed three turnovers.
“He’s gifted,” Larranaga said. “We were trying to get him going.”
Missed chances for FSU. Miami won despite Florida State collecting a whopping 21 offensive rebounds (UM had 32 boards in total). The Seminoles had just 13 second-chance points.
Hamilton, the 69-year-old former UM coach, said he couldn’t remember a game in which an opponent was “14-for-15, with a banked three.” His team, he said, “couldn’t get the stops” after digging a hole.
“I see a lot of flaws in our game,” he said. “I’m sure [Miami] is going to continue to improve.”