Hurricanes rely on seniors to lead way past Seminoles
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After suffering through seven losses in January and February, Miami coach Jim Larranaga decided it was time to change things up.
So Larranaga opted for an all-senior starting lineup for the first time this season. Erik Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori had not started a game, but both provided quality minutes for a team that was playing its third game in six days.
And it was just what Miami needed to grind out an Atlantic Coast Conference win on the road.
Seniors Donovan Kirk had 11 of his 16 points in the first half, Rion Brown scored 14 points and Garrius Adams had 12 points as the Hurricanes grabbed an early lead and held off Florida State 77-73 on Monday night.
"From my point of view that’s the best game we’ve played at both ends of the court," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "We haven’t shown those signs really all year long where we were committed to the defense and we shared the ball on offense continuously.
"We had periods where we did it. But tonight we did it for the whole game."
Miami hit some big shots early, especially from Kirk. He was 4 of 4 from the floor in the first half, providing 11 points as the Hurricanes pulled ahead by as many as 12 late in the first half.
Florida State pushed back, trimming the lead to three on three occasions in the final nine minutes. But each time, Miami had an answer.
The Hurricanes were clutch in the final few minutes. Miami (12-12, 3-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) made 12 of 14 free-throw attempts in the final 1:26 to seal the victory.
Miami scored the most points in a game since putting up 84 in a November win over Texas Southern. The Hurricanes are back at .500 after halting a two-game skid.
And Miami did it by shooting 47 percent from the field, prompting Larranaga to quip: "Normally, against everybody, we shoot 30 percent."
But not on Monday. The Hurricanes were also 7 of 15 from 3-point range, with Kirk, Brown and Adams each making two 3-pointers.
"We just played a really good game," Adams said. "We shared the ball. We got to the free-throw line. We hit a couple big shots down the stretch."
Though Kirk cooled off in the second half, he has done plenty of damage against Florida State this season. On Jan. 15, he shot 9 of 12 to score 21 points in a 63-53 loss to the Seminoles. On Monday, he made 6 of 7 shots.
Sophomore center Tonye Jekiri had a career-high 15 points, including 10 in the second half.
It was a demoralizing loss for Florida State, which fell to 14-10 and 5-7 in the ACC.
The Seminoles have now dropped two straight games and six of their last eight games, a tailspin that has Florida State slipping out of NCAA Tournament contention. There are still six regular-season games left, but the situation isn’t nearly as good as it was a month ago.
"At this point, obviously we’ve dug a deep hole for ourselves," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We still have a lot of basketball to play. We’ll get back to the drawing board on Wednesday."
Even the return of Ian Miller, who missed two games with a sprained ankle, wasn’t enough. Miller knocked down three 3-pointers and another long jumper in 14 minutes before halftime. But he cooled off late, making just 1 of 5 second-half shots.
"They hit a lot of tough shots tonight — first and second half," Miller said. "We just have to keep persevering. We have to keep fighting the rest of this season. It’s not over."