Larkin, Miami Shoot Down FSU's Upset Bid

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State put in one of its best efforts of the year, but in the end Shane Larkin, Reggie Johnson, and a white-hot shooting Miami team were just too much and the Canes notched a 74-68 road victory. Unfortunately for FSU’s faint NCAA Tournament hopes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Before the game we said that in order for FSU to win the game the Noles would need to have three things happen:

1. Break out of their shooting slump – This was halfway accomplished. The Noles did shoot 46% from the field—three percentage points above their season average—and became just the third team to score at least a point per possession against Miami in the last 13 games. However, FSU’s three-point shooting struggles continued, going 4-15 (26.7%) with two of them coming from Terry Whisnant is a two minute spark off the bench midway through the second half. Michael Snaer made his first attempt of the game from long range, but went 0-4 the rest of the game, with several rimming in and out.

2. Significantly improve the rebounding department – Despite being severely outmanned in the interior, this was mission accomplished. FSU grabbed 38.5% of available offensive rebounds, representing their best effort since the Minnesota game in late November. In comparison, FSU only tracked down 13.5% of available offensive rebounds last weekend against Wake. Conversely, FSU held Miami to their lowest offensive rebounding percentage since the Hurricanes game against Duke on January 23rd. It truly was a very nice effort on the boards for FSU.

3. Get an off shooting night from the Hurricanes – This. Did. Not. Happen. For the game, Miami shot 63.8% from the field—including a blistering 74% in the first half! And though they didn’t take a lot of threes (just 8), Miami made three of them to shoot above their season average from three as well. Two of the made threes were just daggers in the second half by Larkin, both coming after fantastic defensive sets by FSU and with the shot clock winding down. And before you start pointing fingers at the defense, accusing them of wearing a tight suit and waving a red flag at the nearest bull, consider this:

Miami only had 9 assists on their 30 made shots. Just 3 of those assists came in the second half and one of them was on a full court inbounds pass leading to a pretty classless layup by Larkin with two seconds to go and the game out of reach. What does that mean? (Other than Larkin fits right in down in Coral Gables) It means that Miami wasn’t able to execute their offensive sets at all, and instead were forced to go one-on-one and rely on their playmakers to bail them out. Which they did. All game.

So how was FSU able to come so close to victory, despite Miami’s ridiculous display of shooting? By forcing the Hurricanes, the 20th best team in the country at taking care of the basketball, into a 23.7% turnover rate. This is almost 7 percentage points above their seasonal average and represents their second highest turnover rate all year—with their highest coming in a November loss to Florida Gulf Coast, in a game in which Durand Scott was suspended and the Hurricanes shot 29.1% from the field. Basically, FSU did enough to beat Miami on virtually any other night of the season.

Quotes, Game Notes, and Reflections:

Jim Larranaga:
• “Heck of a college basketball game. We’re very very fortunate to win.”

• “Highest number of turnovers we’ve had in a long time.”

• “We shot 73% in the first half and I felt like we were behind. They were all over us…they put a lot of pressure on our guards.”

• (When asked what was working) “Put the ball in Shane Larkin’s hands, [and] he dribbled around until he could get a shot.”

• “He (Larkin) really worked on his strength and conditioning in the offseason.”

• “We told him (Larkin) we need him to be aggressive offensively.”

Leonard Hamilton:
• “For 70% of the game I though we did a pretty good job of executing our offense.”

• “In the first half, Durand Scott made some really really tough shots. In the second half we didn’t have an answer for Shane Larkin”

• “I haven’t seen anybody that has the whole package like he (Larkin) does.”

• “I’ve told everyone I think [Larkin’s] the best PG in the conference, if not the nation.”

• “I thought Larkin’s ability to keep the ball in his hands and make plays shows what a great leader would do in a close game.”

On why the change in the starting lineup, which featured three freshman: Michael Ojo, Devon Bookert, and Aaron Thomas.
• “Tried a different look tonight.”

• “I thought we needed to kind of change things around a little bit.”

• “If we’re going to finish strong, we’re going to need a lot of contributions from a lot of players.”

• “In order for us to get into that next category—those elite programs—we’ve got to have the ability to lose six seniors and not take steps back…The elite programs find a way to keep it going at that level. That’s the next step for us.”

• (On why no TW until mid-second half) “I thought we wanted to give some other guys an opportunity to play.”

• “They also had some really big wings, and I thought Aaron’s length was little bit more effective in that situation.”

• “I can’t say enough about Larkin. I’ve been coaching a long time and those kind of guys don’t come around very often.”

• “[Larkin] makes such good decisions all the time. Can’t teach that savvy.”

• “I thought in critical parts of the game…maybe we should have taken layups or called timeouts.”

• “We are not anywhere close to where we have been in the past (defensively) but we will get there.”

• “BC is one of the better executing teams in the conference…they don’t beat themselves.”

• “I’m a little concerned about us…as well as we played tonight for 70% of the game, there were about 8 or 9 possessions where we made poor possessions.”

• “Devon’s knee is not really doing any better.”

• “Montay didn’t play at all tonight…but that doesn’t really mean anything.”

Ham also talked about the good atmosphere and the level of opponent helping the youngsters rise to the occasion.
• “Now we have to do that next game against a team not ranked number three in the country.”

I actually liked Whisnant coming off the bench. His best asset is his shooting ability and it seemed like the heavy minutes he has been logging was affecting his legs on his jumpers. Remember, this is a guy that would probably be seeing half as many minutes if Ian Miller were fully healthy. Terry came in off the bench in second half and promptly scored 8 straight points—which is exactly what a team needs from its 6th and 7th men. Offensive spark plugs.

I also really liked Bookert starting (in fact, TN has been calling for this for a few weeks now). The offense flows so much better when he is in and we simply can’t afford to fall behind teams by 10 or 15 points like we have been doing this year. Our defense just isn’t good enough. Pairing Bookert with a long guard like Aaron Thomas is even better because it makes up for some of his limitations on defense.

Okaro White had a solid 15 and 7 and seems to slowly breaking out of his shooting slump. He did foul out with 2:03 left in the game, but that’s not too shocking considering he was forced to guard Miami’s bigs all game.

It’s pretty clear that this season would have gone much differently had Ian Miller been healthy all year. While he still shows obvious rust and less quickness, he made some huge buckets down the stretch to get us within striking distance. Unfortunately, I have to think that Ham was talking about his pull-up three with a hand in his face when he mentioned how he would have rather seen us take some layups or call timeout down the stretch.

Aaron Thomas’ on ball defense is FANTASTIC, especially for a freshman. When he masters all the principles of Hamilton’s famed defense, he is going to be a terror for opposing guards.

Michael Ojo has made remarkable strides this season as a basketball player. I don’t know if we will ever see his full potential at FSU—he still has a long way to go—but I suspect we will see enough for him to become a problem that other teams will have to game plan around.

I echo Hamilton’s thoughts regarding being worried about this team’s psyche. This game proved that we can rebound well enough when we want to. It proved that we can battle back when down against an elite opponent, as the Noles twice came back from 12 point deficits in the second half. Heck, for the first time all season it proved that this team can even stay on the court against a top 25 opponent. However, just go back a few days to the Wake game to see the other side of the coin. Boston College is an improving team and they simply don’t beat themselves. If FSU is not patient on offense and doesn’t crash the boards on both ends, BC can and will beat us. And if we lose this upcoming game…well, the NIT would start to look like a tough accomplishment at that point. Part of growing up as a team is getting enough confidence to be able to play with a top 5 team. Mission accomplished. But the other half is learning to bring an ACC level effort against EVERY opponent. It took our last crop of seniors 3.5 years to learn that lesson. Hopefully these young Noles can learn it by Saturday.
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