Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Miami Edges Florida St. 67-65 In Nail-Biting Victory

Feb 14, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) shoots the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Malik Beasley (5) during the first half of the game at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 14, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) shoots the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Malik Beasley (5) during the first half of the game at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports /

Before this week, the Miami Hurricanes hadn’t won a game by less than five points all season. Now, they just seem to be making a habit of it.

After blowing an 11-point halftime lead, the Canes and a hobbled Sheldon McClellan hit just enough shots late to outlast the Florida State Seminoles 67-65 in Tallahassee.

At the outset, Coach Jim Larranaga’s team didn’t stick to their usual road formula, but considering their struggles, that was certainly a good thing. Compared to the team’s usual slow start out of the gate, Miami came out firing and led by McClellan, the Hurricanes jumped out to an 11-2 lead.

The quick start and early momentum didn’t last long though as the Seminoles stormed back with a 13-3 run to take a 15-14 lead with 10:15 left in the first half. While Florida St. seemed to be back in the game with the home crowd roaring, the experienced Canes didn’t seem fazed and cruised comfortably for the rest of the first half. Three-pointers were falling and the defense was superb and at the break, Miami looked to be in complete control with a 37-26 lead.

As the two teams headed off to the locker room, you couldn’t help but think about this same matchup just a year ago in  Tallahassee. With an 11-point halftime lead in that one, the Hurricanes blew it in the second half and took another poor loss on the resume. The way the second half started in this year’s matchup it looked like deja vu.

Led by some spectacular three-point shooting from the Noles and foul trouble for Tonye Jekiri, the Seminoles began to claw their way back into the game. With 12:17 left, Miami’s senior center picked up his fourth foul on a moving screen, forcing Ebuka Izundu into the game. With the freshman also getting into foul trouble, Florida St. had their way on the inside and eventually tied the game at 50-50.

For the next 8:44, neither team could pull away and things got even scarier for the Canes when Sheldon McClellan rolled his ankle after stepping on Dwayne Bacon’s foot. Despite his obvious pain and limp, the tough redshirt senior gutted it out and was able to hit his free throws as well as a three-pointer down the stretch to give him 20 points on the night.

After McClellan hit that crucial three-pointer with 4:24 left, the Hurricanes led 63-57. For a Florida St. team clearly on the edge of an NCAA Tournament bid, they weren’t going to go down softly against their biggest rivals in a game they desperately needed.

Despite Miami doing a great job on Florida St.’s “Big Three” all night, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley began to get loose for Leonard Hamilton’s team and their six straight points cut the lead to 63-62 with 2:56 left. After two free throws from Jekiri and one of two from Newton, the Canes took a 66-62 lead, but it was that man Bacon that brought it close once again.

The superb freshman nailed a three with 47 seconds left and cut the Miami lead to just 66-65. On the other end, the Seminoles got a huge stop on a Davon Reed missed three-pointer and looked ready to hold the ball for the last shot. As the always-reliable Xavier Rathan-Mayes dribbled the ball at the top of the key, it seemed Miami would blow one late once again, but somehow Reed forced the FSU sophomore to dribble off his leg, only for Devon Bookert to pick the ball up and launch a wild three with still four seconds remaining. Newton rebounded Bookert’s missed heave and after he was fouled, hit one of two free throws once again to put Miami up 67-65 with four seconds left.

After that missed free throw on the second attempt, Malik Beasley raced down the court and chucked up a deep three that had too much on it and the Hurricanes were able to breathe a sigh of relief for the second straight game.

It was a game that probably shouldn’t have gotten close, but as I said after the Pitt game, these types of wins show that a team is ready for March. For my heart’s sake I wouldn’t want more of these games, but for a team to get tested in a high-pressure situation before it really matters in March is an extremely useful experience.

Now, the victory was significant, but making sure Sheldon McClellan is 100% or close to it may be even more important. The redshirt senior delivered a real gutsy performance after falling to the floor on two separate occasions. The nature of ankle injuries is unpredictable, but seeing him finish the game off is certainly a good sign. With Miami’s toughest stretch of the season on the horizon, the Hurricanes better hope their superstar is good to go.

Another guy that once again won’t get much credit after a terrific performance is Davon Reed. The junior was +19 in nine minutes in the first half and finished the game with 14 points. He may not get the attention of McClellan and Rodriguez, but game after game, all Reed does is hit big shots for this team.

While Reed’s offensive performance was fantastic, his defense along with the team’s commitment was phenomenal, especially on Florida St.’s “Big Three” of Beasley, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes. Back in January I thought Miami did a good job on those three holding them to 33 combined points, but somehow today was even better. Rathan-Mayes led the trio with 12 points and combined they finished with just 29 points. The Seminoles got some key contributions from other sources, but it was Miami’s defense on those three that won the game.

Once again for Miami like it was on Tuesday, it wasn’t that pretty. It wasn’t a blowout or a comprehensive victory, but they got the job done and come March, that’s the bottom line.