In a game where physical play was allowed and encouraged, Florida State rose to the challenge to get back in the win column on Saturday afternoon.
Bernard James working against Reggie Johnson in the paint. James finished with 18 points leading all scorers. (Photo: Travis Register)
The 15th-ranked Seminoles (17-7, 8-2) won their sixth consecutive game against their in-state rivals 64-59, and perhaps most importantly, stayed atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Coming off a disappointing loss up in Chestnut Hill, Mass. to Boston College on Wednesday, taking on Miami, now 15-8 and 6-4 in the ACC, was no easy challenge. The way the Seminoles would rebound was unknown.
But they showed a sense of resiliency overcoming consistent Miami surges to fight off the Hurricanes inside the Donald L. Tucker Center.
"I was glad to see the way the guys respond like they did today," said a relieved FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton.
"Miami is a very, very good basketball team. They are experienced, challenged a lot of our defensive principles and we are very fortunate to come away with a victory."
Florida State's two-point lead at the half never seemed to swell much larger than that throughout the heated contest.
Both teams went back and forth working hard inside the paint scoring a combined 56 points as the officials let them play. It was FSU's physical toughness, according to Miami's head coach Jim Larranaga, that ended up making the difference.
"I just think in the game like that, you just have to be stronger and tougher than the opponent," he said. "Whoever is tougher - there is going to be a lot of contact of screens and re-screens, you have to fight over those and get help over those. Lots of contact occurs. If you are not stronger and you are not tougher than the opponent, then they are going to win."
At the final buzzer, James led all scorers with 18 and Miller came up with 11 points of his own in the form of a few clutch three-point shots and converted free throws down the stretch.
"He hit a couple of timely baskets for us," Coach Hamilton said of Miller's contributions. "He is very capable of doing that. I am really proud of the way he adjusted…His 11 points in the second half were big baskets for us, especially those two three's.
"Obviously, Bernard was big in the second half," Hamilton added of James' second 20 minutes. "In the first half, we had a very difficult time getting him going because of the defensive job that Reggie Johnson was doing. Second half, we were able to move Bernard around a little bit and he got some touches when he didn't have a big body on him."
Florida State's challenge to finish in first in the conference standings doesn't get any easier from here.
Coach Hamilton's team will host Virginia Tech on Thursday, February 16th, before heading up to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on North Carolina State just two days later.
Then, of course, perennial power Duke comes to Tallahassee with revenge on their mind from the first matchup earlier in the season on February 23rd.
The way the Seminoles see it, everyone from here on out is gunning for their top position and they are truly a marked group.
"We have to prepare ourselves for these types of games every night," Coach Hamilton explained. "We are at a point now where we are trying to maintain where we are and people are trying to move up the ladder. It becomes increasingly difficult. This is an adjustment that we have to make from being in the position that we are in knowing we are going to get everyone's best shot because they are trying to move up and everyone is playing for their post-season lives."
Florida State's 8-2 mark in the ACC is the first time the Seminoles have started in such a fashion since the 1992-93 season. The win gives FSU six straight at home dating back to January 4th, prior to a loss against Princeton in overtime.