(#14) Florida State (16-4, 6-1 ACC) and (#16) Miami (17-3, 5-2 ACC) came into today's game close in the polls and that is fitting because the teams have similar resumes. While FSU has played a significantly tougher schedule overall with three ranked nonconference opponents to Miami's one, in conference play both teams only had one loss which was on the road. Also, despite the gaudy records neither team had many wins against future NCAA Tournament teams. Jeff Sagarin ranks Miami's schedule #154 in the nation. The Canes have only faced one top 50 team and that was a seven point loss to Baylor. FSU on the other hand has the 60th toughest schedule and is 1-4 against the top 50 coming into the game with that win coming at home against Rutgers. This is a long winded way of saying that this game would be clearly the best win for either program. Fortunately for Nole fans FSU was able to use a strong second half to pull away for the 69-58 victory.
The game started out close. Keyona Hayes (18pts, 7reb, 3stls) played a strong all around game in the post for the Canes and she opened the scoring with a jumper. Ivey Slaughter (10pts, 5reb, 4stls) responded with a layup for the Seminoles and the game was off. The rest of the first quarter was nip and tuck with neither team able to stretch a lead larger than three points. However, on the last play of the quarter FSU ran their play to perfection getting a Kai James layup with no time remaining on the clock to give the Noles a five point lead.
Miami would respond in the second quarter. Early in the quarter UM hit the Noles with a 7-0 run to take a 19-18 lead. Hayes and star guard Adrienne Motley (20pts) were big in this stretch for the Hurricanes. FSU fought back with a couple of buckets but then Miami went on another run this time it was 10-2 which gave the Canes a 29-24 lead. From there FSU went on a small 7-2 run to tie the score at 31-31 at the half.
The first half was the Hayes and Motley show for UM as these two players scored 22 of Miami's first half points. Hayes was particularly important as she kept the Canes afloat when Motley went to the bench with foul trouble. FSU's production was much more even as Ivey Slaughter, Leticia Romero and Shakayla Thomas all chipped in with eight points apiece. Defensively both teams played man to man with Miami trying to employ at least token full court pressure while the Noles were mostly content to play half court defense.
In the third quarter All-ACC center Adut Bulgak (10pts, 5rebs) made her move. Bulgak scored nine of FSU's first 11 points in the quarter and the Noles were able to ride her strong play to a 42-37 lead. Miami came back with strong inside play led by Hayes and freshman Emese Hof but FSU was able to take a six point lead into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth the teams traded baskets with Kai James coming in to provide strong offense for the Noles as Hayes continued to show her ability to score over taller players. Then Shakayla Thomas (15pts, 8reb) asserted herself. She scored the next five points for FSU to give the Seminoles an eight point lead. Then Miami came down and got three straight offensive rebounds and finally kicked the ball out to Motley and she drained a three to cut the lead to five and give the Canes (and their fans) life with 2:23 left in the game. On the next possession Brittany Brown answered with a huge three to give the Noles an eight point lead and Miami was not able to answer. Leticia Romero (19pts, 5reb, 6asts) scored a layup and the teams traded free throws to end the game.
This is a huge win for FSU. There is no other way to say it. When you can get a road win against a top 20 team in conference and have it be against one of your biggest rivals to boot, it's a good day. FSU is proving that they can win in a variety of ways. Last game against UVA the Noles got a win with defense when they didn't shoot particularly well. In this game they lost the rebounding battle (which almost never happens) 35-32 but they were able to compensate by shooting much better (47.1% FG, 57.1% 3PT, 77.3% FT) while still playing strong defense.
The Seminoles have the look of a team that is rounding into form. The players seem to be settling into their roles on both ends of the court. They generally are able to get into their offense and get good shots. Thomas remains the X-factor. She is one of the few Noles (along with Romero at times) who can get her own shot whenever she wants. She is ultra aggressive and puts maximum pressure on the defense at all times. Sometimes it seems as if the opponent is not prepared for such an aggressive player to come off the bench. While I'm not quite ready to say that the team is playing up to the level they displayed last year, they are clearly moving in the right direction.
Miami has a quality team. The Canes will definitely be an NCAA team and they have an outside shot at a top 4 seed. However, the fact is that they are still at a talent disadvantage against FSU. This game was closer than the final score but there can be no doubt that there is still a noticeable gap between these two teams.
Florida State travels to Winston-Salem to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Thursday January 28 at 7pm.