On a night when Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton decided to change things up and start three freshmen against one of the best teams in the nation, a youthful and energized Seminole squad found it in their hearts to hang with the veteran Miami Hurricanes until the final buzzer.
However, it was the Hurricanes who would prevail and remain perfect in the Atlantic Coast Conference, topping the Seminoles 74-68.
Freshmen Devon Bookert, Aaron Thomas and Michael Ojo all earned spots in the starting lineup, giving FSU a look that had yet to be seen this year.
“I just thought that I wanted to give some other guys the opportunity to play,” Hamilton said of the change up.
Sophomore guard Shane Larkin led the charge for the veteran Miami team, scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-of-15 shooting from the field for the evening.
“His speed and quickness and his ability to make decisions is phenomenal,” Hamilton said. “I’ve told everybody I think he’s the No. 1 point guard in the ACC for sure and possible one of the top two or three point guards in the country.
“I haven’t seen anybody that has the whole package like he does.”
Big man Reggie Johnson wasn’t far behind, making his presence felt all night in the post en route to 14 points and eight rebounds.
Speaking of rebounds, however, FSU -- despite Miami holding a significant size advantage -- did actually did manage to win the battle on the boards, pulling down 26 rebounds compared to Miami’s 22.
After falling behind by 12 late in the second half, a Seminole run was sparked by a Michael Ojo dunk. On the ensuing possession, after a Hurricane miss, it was Terry Whisnant, who had recently checked into the game for the first time of the night, draining a three ball from the corner.
After another Hurricane miss, it was Whisnant back on the other end, again hitting a shot from downtown in the corner.
Ian Miller added a few buckets to the Seminoles’ run and a Devon Bookert three-point play would make it 69-66 with just under a minute remaining.
However, Miami’s talent and experience ultimately proved to be too much for the Seminoles to overcome, as Larkin and the Hurricanes pulled away in the final seconds.
“I think that an experienced team, they don’t get rattled in critical points of the game,” Hamilton said of Miami. “They’ve been there and done that. And that’s a sign of maturity.”
Miami shot a scoring 63.8 percent from the field, carefully picking apart FSU’s defense and operating with admirable efficiency all night long. The Hurricanes took just eight shots from beyond the arch and nailed three of them.
While Miami improves to 11-0 in the ACC, FSU falls to below .500 at 5-6 and with tonight’s loss, the Seminoles also likely lost any remaining hope they had at returning to the tournament for a fifth straight year.
However, there’s little doubt that tonight’s effort will be of the utmost importance for this young FSU squad moving forward, especially in years ahead. They may not have come out with the W, but there is certainly an aspect of confidence for the Seminoles to draw from this heart-fought battle.
“I was proud of the spurts we had, [when] we were fighting real hard,” FSU forward Okaro White said after the game. “That just shows that we can play hard and we can compete.
“When you’re winning, you can learn, but there’s a few things I think you learn more after a loss. After playing hard the whole game, I think we can learn a little bit from this one.”
The talent to hang with the best is there, but the experience is not.
“Yeah, it [gives us] a lot of confidence,” freshman center Michael Ojo said when asked about FSU’s late run. “We have the confidence now that we can compete with any team in the country if we just play the way we played them tonight.”
FSU will be looking to get back to .500 in the conference this weekend, when Boston College comes to town for a noon matchup on Saturday.
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