Finding a way to win is all that matters in college basketball.
No. 13 Florida State (13-2, 1-1 ACC) did just that, holding on for an ugly 68-62 victory over in-state rival Miami (8-7, 0-3 ACC) on Wednesday night with a strong crowd of 10,531 fans looking on from the Tucker Civic Center.
“Typical ACC blowout,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.
“They come this way all the time. They say 70 percent of ACC games are decided by four points or less.”
It was FSU’s ACC home opener.
FSU led 58-45 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, but the Hurricanes kept fighting and cut the Seminoles’ lead to 64-62 with 56 seconds left.
“It’s the ACC,” Senior FSU guard Terance Mann said.
“That’s what happens. When they’re in the bonus and they’re driving you can’t put your hands in there to keep in front and they go to the line. You can’t be real aggressive on defense and the other team knows that so they just go downhill and get layups at the rim.”
FSU pushed it back to 66-62 on a putback from junior guard Trent Forrest after a missed layup by senior forward Phil Cofer with 29 seconds remaining in the game.
Miami had a chance to cut the lead to two once again, but forward Ebuka Izundu’s missed a dunk with less than 20 seconds remaining, ending the Hurricanes’ chances of pulling off the upset.
“In ACC level of competition, you can’t have those types of possessions where you’re not playing intelligent basketball,” Hamilton said.
“We had four straight possessions, which could have been a comfortable victory became a challenge for us down at the end. We got three good stops and hit a couple free throws.”
It took until the final 10 minutes of the game before FSU finally started to distance itself from UM.
Mann sparked the Seminoles’ advance with a couple of big baskets and some excellent defensive plays. He finished the game with nine points.
Senior guard P.J. Savoy, who missed his first four three-point attempts, scored eight of his 10 points in the second half to extend FSU’s lead.
The Seminoles’ bench depth proved to be the difference.
The Hurricanes played eight players – compared to 11 for FSU – and weren’t able to keep up. FSU’s reserves outscored Miami’s 41-10.
Neither team was able to get into rhythm over the first 30 minutes due to fast whistles from the officials and poor shooting.
The Seminoles couldn’t find the bottom of the basket from beyond the arc for most of the game. They hit three of their first 20 attempts and finished 6-for-26.
Graduate transfer guard David Nichols carried the Seminoles through the first 30 minutes. He finished with a team-high 13 points.
“I’m just playing within the flow of the game,” Nichols said.
“Being aggressive when I need to be. Finding my teammates when I need to. Just putting the right energy behind the basketball.”
The first half of the game was punctuated by whistle after whistle.
The Seminoles were called for 12 fouls compared to just six by the Hurricanes. That led to 10 more free throw attempts for UM. The Hurricanes weren’t called for a foul over the final 8:51 of the half.
When Miami wasn’t at the foul line, it struggled to find the bottom of the net, shooting 29.2 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc.
Despite the advantage at the foul line, FSU took a 33-29 lead into the break.
The Seminoles shot 42.2 percent from the field despite the struggles from the perimeter and shot 61.5 percent from the free throw line. They went to the line for just 13 free throws.
FSU held Miami to just 37 percent from the field and 22 percent from three.
The Seminoles now lead the all-time series between the two programs 46-36.
FSU needs to find a way out of this shooting funk with No. 1 Duke visiting Saturday. The Seminoles shot poorly against No. 2 Virginia in the 65-52 loss on Saturday and continued that against the Hurricanes.
The Seminoles have made just 12 of their 49 threes against UVA and UM, and also passed up a number of open shots from the perimeter. FSU knocked down three in the final 10 minutes of the game to improve that number.
FSU also needs to play redshirt sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele more than senior center Christ Koumadje. The Seminoles tried to run their offense through Koumadje in the second half, and it went as poorly as it could have. Koumadje was 0-for-6 from the field.
Kabengele got into a bit of foul trouble, but he is a defensive force and can also find the bottom of the net. He finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
FSU will host No. 1 Duke at the Tucker Civic Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.