The Miami Hurricanes (22-7, 10-6 ACC) came into the TLCCC really needing a win. The Canes were blitzed in their last game losing to Louisville 79-51 in a game that was never really competitive. They were also looking for revenge against an FSU team that beat them 69-58 a month ago in Coral Gables. Even though UM played much better in this game FSU had just enough at the end (despite some nervy moments) to get a tight 70-67 victory.
Miami started this game like gangbusters racing out to a 9-2 lead. Their first four points came off of offensive rebounds and they were making all of the hustle plays. Meanwhile, FSU was busy missing shots and turning the ball over. However, the Noles fought back with a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 11-9. The rest of the quarter consisted of runs as Miami scored five in a row and Florida State answered with a 6-0 run to end the quarter down by one at 16-15.
The Canes started the second quarter strong. They were able to build a 28-21 lead late the quarter. UM was executing their offense well and FSU was having trouble containing forward Keyona Hayes (10pt, 9reb) inside. Hayes had eight of her ten points in the quarter. Then it was the Leticia Romero (24pts, 5reb, 4asts) show. Romero scored the next eight points for the Noles (Miami only scored two in the stretch) to draw FSU to within one point for a 30-29 score at half.
In the third quarter the Noles relied on Romero and Shakayla Thomas (22pts) for 13 of their 15 points in the quarter while the Canes got balanced scoring as five UM players scored in the quarter. Near the end of the quarter FSU played good defense and Romero got the ball and used a behind the back dribble to get free and found Thomas under the basket with a sweet no-look pass for an easy layup. At that point the score was 46-44 and the officials decided to insert themselves into the game. Thomas was called for a technical foul for I'm not sure what. Maybe she said something to Hayes who was standing there. I hope so because otherwise Thomas got a technical for just staring. In any case Adrienne Motley (18pts, 7reb) made both technical free throws and Miami led 48-44 going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter UM again used balanced scoring as their first six points were scored by three different players. FSU on the other hand relied on one player, Ivey Slaughter, who had all of her six points in this sequence to keep the Noles close. From there the Spanish Connection stepped up. FSU would score 20 more points in the game and 16 were scored by the Spainards (Thomas had the other four). Maria Conde (14pts) had perhaps her best game as a Seminole. Certainly it was her most impactful. She stepped up with a big triple to pull FSU within one at 54-53. This was a part of a 15-2 run that FSU had that effectively won the game for the Noles. In that run Conde had a nifty left handed reverse layup on a fast break to add to FSU's momentum.
After that run FSU was leading 65-58 with 51 seconds left and it looked like the game was over. It wasn't. To Miami's credit they kept fighting and FSU almost gave the game away. Slaughter was called for her fifth foul and Jessica Thomas made the first but missed the second. FSU didn't box out and Erykah Davenport got the rebound and laid it in to cut the lead to 65-61 with 39 seconds left. Not a big deal with so little time left. Then Emiah Bingley mishandles the in bounds pass and Miami gets the turnover. They then throw it out of bounds but on replay FSU is ruled to have deflected it so Miami gets it back but misses a jumper. Romero is fouled and she makes two free throws to make the score 67-61 with 17 seconds left. Miami refuses to quit as Michelle Woods takes it to the rack and Romero (for some reason) reaches in and fouls her. Woods converts the three point play and Miami is down 67-64 with nine seconds left. Romero is fouled and makes both free throws but then Motley hits a three to bring UM within two. Romero is able to hit another free throw for the final margin with two seconds left.
For the Noles there were a lot of positives to take from this game. Of course it's always great to beat a rival but FSU really needed this game to help secure a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Miami is ranked #17 this would have likely been FSU's worst loss of the season considering the fact that the Noles were at home. Had they lost the Seminoles would have most likely needed to reach the ACC final for a realistic shot at a top four seed. Instead FSU got the win due to gutsy play and a huge 26 point fourth quarter.
Florida State was able to win a game in which they were down for most of the afternoon, got outrebounded (34-28) and had 18 turnovers (although UM did have 22). FSU also only shot .308 (4-13) from behind the arc. However, the Noles got inspired play from several players particularly Romero, Thomas and Conde. We may look back on this as a breakout game for Conde. She came up big in crunch time when her team needed it the most scoring seven of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. If she can carry this confident play into the postseason the Noles will be a much more dangerous team going forward because she provides size and versatility from the wing.
Romero was also big for FSU. We have been pleading with her to be more assertive and she is starting to do that at just the right time. Since the Syracuse game Romero has had double figure shots (13, 11, and 14) in every game. She becomes much harder to guard when she is a threat because the defense can't just play off of her and sit in passing lanes. Her being a threat to shoot also creates space down low for Thomas, Bulgak, and Slaughter. She showed today that she can be aggressive offensively and yet still run the offense as she led the team with four assists. The other big benefit from her taking more shots is that she is more likely to get to the line and she shoots 89% from the free throw stripe.
It wasn't a perfect game as FSU did get outrebounded and there were some defensive lapses. However, FSU proved again that they have Miami's number and got an important win in the process.
FSU will have the double bye in the ACC Tournament. They will begin play in the quarterfinals in Greensboro on Friday, March 4. FSU will play the winner of fifth seed Miami and the winner of the Pitt/North Carolina game.