UM rallies from 26 down, gets assist from Mario Cristobal, but falls short 61-60 to FSU

·5 min read
Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Miami Hurricanes had just cut Florida State’s lead from 26 points to 10 Saturday afternoon on a rim-shaking dunk by Kameron McGusty, and the noise level reached ear-piercing levels at the Watsco Center – sold out for the first time in four years.

Newly hired UM football coach Mario Cristobal, as fired up as the overflowing student section, stomped onto the court during the timeout, waved his arms wildly to ignite the crowd, grabbed a microphone and screamed “Let’s Go Canes! Let’s Go Canes!”

The Hurricanes outscored the Seminoles 27-8 over the final 10 minutes, and had a chance to win, but Isaiah Wong missed a fadeaway jumper in the final second and Miami lost 61-60.

It was the second time in 12 days that UM fell short by one point to FSU and the ninth time in a row the Canes lost to the Noles.

Although Saturday’s nationally televised loss was a heartbreaker, UM coach Jim Larranaga and his players left feeling proud of their resilience. Down by 24 at halftime and shooting 1-of-12 from three-point range it seemed highly unlikely that the Hurricanes would be in position to win at the end of the day.

But they were.

“I thought that was one heck of a college basketball game and I was thrilled to see the place sold out, our students turned out in large numbers, it made for an absolutely electric atmosphere,” Larranaga said. “The fans were treated to two great teams slugging it out. Florida State did everything right in the first half, we dug ourselves a major hole and we did a lot of great things in the second half.

“I’m very, very proud of our players and the job they did fighting back and making this a great game.”

UM had rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Syracuse a few weeks ago, so the Hurricanes vowed not to give up against FSU.

They came out more aggressive defensively in the second half, trapping and scrambling and forcing turnovers, which they didn’t do in the first half. A few UM players picked up quick fouls in the opening minutes of the game, so that affected their defensive game plan.

Offensively, Miami found its rhythm after intermission and started knocking down threes. Wong made a pair of four-point plays to help UM chip away at the lead and assisted on a Sam Waardenburg dunk with 38 seconds remaining that got UM to within one, 61-60.

“We could have just quit the game in the first half because we were down by 26, but we all stayed together and that’s what I like about this team,” said Wong, who led UM with 22 points, 18 of them in the second half. “We all play hard to the end and we can make any comeback. We always have that hope that we can still win the game, even when we’re not doing so well.”

Wong had the ball in his hands with eight seconds to go and was eyeing the rim as he dribbled up the court.

“I was trying to attack the paint that last possession but they trapped me and I just went off instinct and shot the ball fadeaway and I missed it,” Wong said.

Waardenburg, one of five sixth-year seniors on the team, said the team’s maturity showed.

“Obviously, that was a tough one, that’s one we really wanted, especially after the game up at FSU a week and a half ago,” said UM forward Sam Waardenburg. “It’s a bit of a sting, but Coach L stressed to us in the locker room to keep our heads high and energy high because we fought hard for that one. I want to thank the fans. That was the loudest game I’ve ever been a part of at the Watsco Center. They were huge getting us back into that game.”

McGusty and Charlie Moore each scored 12 for UM. FSU was led by Caleb Mills (16) and Anthony Polite (15).

The Seminoles are deeper and taller than the Hurricanes, with four 7-footers on the roster, and that presented problems.

“They have a lot of size and take up a lot of room on the floor and they’re a tremendous defensive team,” Waardenburg said. “When you drive into that paint, they crowd you and it’s quite difficult to find guys. I really hope we see them again. We want to get a W against them. It’s been a while.”

The Hurricanes and Seminoles are tied with an ACC-best 6-2 conference record. Miami is 14-5 overall, FSU is 13-5. Duke is third at 5-2 and is 15-3 overall. With a sweep over Miami and a win over Duke in the past two weeks, FSU should get into the Top 25.

“That was a perfect example of what I call an ACC blowout, we beat Miami by one point,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton told the Herald on the phone after the game. “We’re probably not quite as good as we played in the first half and I’m sure they’d say they’re not as vulnerable as they played in the first half, but that’s what happens in the ACC.”

Hamilton, who coached at UM from 1990-2000, praised Larranaga for turning Miami around this season and said he hopes fans appreciate the in-state rivalry and how far the programs at UM and FSU have come.

“It’s amazing, you have to give Coach Larranaga a lot of credit for coming from an injury-plagued team to the team that was No. 1 in the ACC,” Hamilton said. “That says a lot about his ability to recruit and assess how to play within the talent they have. They play a unique style, different from all the other teams we play and it’s extremely effective. I think it’s great to have two teams from Florida ranked 1 and 2 in the ACC. You could say we’re 1A and they’re 1B.”

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