The depleted University of Miami men’s basketball team finds itself in the Atlantic Coast Conference cellar — along with Notre Dame and Wake Forest — heading into Sunday’s noon home game against in-state rival Florida State at the Watsco Center.
Miami dropped to 9-9 overall and 1-5 in the conference after a 73-53 road loss at Syracuse on Thursday night. The Orange hit a season-high 14 three-pointers, and the Hurricanes struggled to get past Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense.
Point guard Chris Lykes, who was averaging 22 points in conference games, managed just eight points on 4-of-15 shooting (0-of-8 from beyond the arc) and had only two assists. Zach Johnson also struggled, with nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. The Hurricanes shot 34 percent as a team, and 27 percent from three-point range.
Things will get no easier. They could get more difficult. After Sunday’s game against the Seminoles, the Canes face a pair of Top 10 teams — No. 10 Virginia Tech at home Wednesday and No. 3 Virginia on the road Feb. 2.
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A home win Sunday would give UM a boost of confidence after a demoralizing stretch of five losses the past six games.
The Canes were hoping the NCAA would reinstate forward Dewan Hernandez in time for the Syracuse game, but it didn’t happen. A decision is expected this week. Hernandez has missed all 18 games this season while his eligibility is reviewed.
Miami has been playing with just seven scholarship players, and now has eight after coaches rewarded walk-on Willie Herenton with a scholarship last week.
FSU won 68-62 when the teams last played on Jan. 9 in Tallahassee. Miami closed the gap to 64-62 with 46 seconds left in the game, but the Seminoles pulled away. The Canes struggled from the perimeter in that game, missing 18 of their 22 three-point attempts.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, are coming off a much-needed 77-68 win over Clemson after a three-game slide that began with a heartbreaking last-second loss to then-top-ranked Duke on Jan. 12. FSU reached the Elite Eight last season, and cruised through the non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record that vaulted the team to No. 9 in the AP poll.
But the loss to Duke was followed by back-to-back losses to Pitt (75-62) and Boston College (87-82). FSU is now 14-5, 2-4 in the ACC, and slipped out of the Top 25.
The Miami-Florida State matchup always takes on a special meaning for Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton, who coached the Hurricanes from 1990 to 2000 and took the team to the Sweet 16 his final season.