FSU faces critical game vs. surging Miami

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton could smile for the first time Thursday night. The Seminoles had erased an 11-point second-half deficit to tie the score, made a defensive stop on Clemson’s last possession and Michael Snaer’s 25-footer banked in at the buzzer during FSU’s 60-57 win.

A desperate shot gave a lift to a team that was in desperation.

And now a short-handed Florida State team prepares for Miami, which may have the most impressive win in college basketball this season after demolishing No. 1 Duke 90-63 on Wednesday night.

“This team down in Coral Gables, that might be one of the hottest teams in the country,” Hamilton said. “They defeated a No. 1-ranked team. And you couldn’t tell who the No. 1-ranked team was in that particular game.”

Duke may be the top team in the nation, but Miami is the top dog in the ACC. The Hurricanes are 5-0 in the conference going into Sunday night’s home game with Florida State. And Miami (14-3) is also 8-0 at home this season.

The Seminoles have won six of the past seven meetings between the teams. Miami’s only recent win was a 78-62 victory in Coral Gables last February.

Florida State (11-7, 3-2 ACC) has struggled in an up-and-down season. After winning its first Atlantic Coast Conference title last March, the Seminoles said goodbye to six seniors. The roster overhaul took its toll early, as the Seminoles suffered head-scratching losses to South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn.

The ACC schedule has typically been where Florida State makes its move in past seasons, rattling off 10 of 11 wins in conference play last season. But this time, Florida State has been both hit and miss.

There was the good: road wins over Clemson and Maryland. And the bad: a four-minute scoreless stretch at the end of a loss to North Carolina and a historically low 36 points in a 20-point road loss to Virginia.

If Snaer’s shot hadn’t gone in against Clemson, the game would have gone to overtime. With both teams in foul trouble, it’s anyone’s guess as to how it would have played out.

Instead, it’s a win that brings confidence to a team that desperately needed it and is playing shorthanded: power forward Terrance Shannon is out for an indefinitely with a neck injury and shooting guard Ian Miller has been slowed for months with a foot injury.

“This was a critical game for our whole season,” Snaer said. “This game could be a defining game for our season.”

Snaer’s shot — his third buzzer-beating 3-pointer in two seasons — is the one that will be remembered from the Clemson win. But it was the performance of center Kiel Turpin and guard Devon Bookert that put Florida State in position to win.

Turpin didn’t have a point or rebound in the first half. But he finished with 16 points — going 8 of 9 from the free-throw line — and added four rebounds in the second half. And Bookert, who has also been slowed after he skinned his knee while riding his scooter in the fall, had 9 of his 11 points in the second half.

Hamilton was pleased with how his team pushed to get back in the game in the final 12 minutes Thursday.

“Mentally and emotionally it gives you a lift,” Hamilton said. “This is what we have to do, this is a level we have to play at, this is the way we have to execute in a hard-fought game in order to win.”

Miami has never opened conference play 6-0, not in the Big East nor the ACC. The Hurricanes haven’t lost in 2013, and they have been impressive on defense in holding both Georgia Tech and Maryland less than 50 points.

And they are balanced on offense with guards Durand Scott and Shane Larkin and forward Kenny Kadji along with the return of 290-pound center Reggie Johnson.

If the Hurricanes play like they did against Duke, there’s just no stopping them. Miami shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Blue Devils to just 19 first-half points.

“We know on a national level beating the No. 1 team in the country is a big thing,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “It captures the attention of players and coaches. They’re not going to be taken by surprise. You don’t fly under the radar screen after that.”