Takeaways from Miami’s near-miracle comeback versus Florida State

Sixth-year redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty drives to the basket during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Sixth-year redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty drives to the basket during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Miami fans filled the Watsco Center to the brim for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon, but were left with a sour taste in their mouths after the Hurricanes (14-5, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) took another heart-wrenching loss at the hands of their rival Florida State Seminoles (13-5, 6-2 ACC).

The Hurricanes were run out of the gym in the first half, as an abysmal shooting performance allowed the Seminoles to build a commanding 24-point lead at halftime.

Miami showed lots of heart as it rallied back to make Florida State sweat it out at the end of the game. But even with a raucous atmosphere buoyed by a packed student section, the deficit proved just too big to overcome.

Head coach Jim Larrañaga watches on during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Head coach Jim Larrañaga watches on during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

“We did a lot of great things in the second half,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We had a chance with eight seconds to go to win the ballgame, and unfortunately just missed. So, I’m very proud of our players and the job they did in fighting back.”

Although the fight shown in the face of a massive deficit was commendable, the fact remains that the 61-60 loss represents Miami’s ninth loss in a row to Florida State, ending the Hurricanes’ run atop the ACC standings for now.

As the Hurricanes look to put a tough loss behind them, here are some takeaways from the game…

1. When the Hurricanes get beat, it starts on the glass

If the Hurricanes have a glaring weakness that opposing coaches will look to exploit this season, rebounding is it.

Miami sits at a lowly 328th in rebounding margin among Division I programs, and in their five losses on the season, the Hurricanes have been outrebounded by 13.6 on average.

This weak spot reared its’ ugly head in perhaps the most frustrating and deflating sequence of the game on Saturday. With the Hurricanes down 59-52 and the clock creeping under four minutes, a defensive stop was in order.

The Hurricanes made the stop that they needed but were unable to corral the ensuing rebound… three times in a row.

The Seminoles couldn’t squander four opportunities to score, and they pushed the lead to 61-52 on a Caleb Mills layup after possessing the ball for over a minute, forcing a Hurricanes timeout.

Miami was able to get back into the game after the timeout, but the damage done by the Seminoles on the offensive glass proved to be a crucial difference maker.

The Hurricanes are a small team by most standards, with just one traditional “big man” receiving regular minutes in the rotation; this provides the team with advantages when it comes to speed and shot-making, but an inherent rebounding disadvantage.

However, the Hurricanes need to find a way to improve their interior rebounding issues if they wish to make a run at an ACC title.

2. Florida State has become Miami’s kryptonite on the court

Saturday’s loss for the Hurricanes marks the ninth in a row against the Seminoles, and the fourth straight season without a victory against their in-state rivals.

Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong guards a Seminole during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong guards a Seminole during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

“They’re a team that, in this year and previous years, they always have size,” Miami forward Sam Waardenburg said. “They take up a lot of room on the floor, and that helps them on defense a lot.”

This size is what has made Florida State a bad matchup for Miami in recent years. For comparison, the Seminoles’ roster consists of four 7-foot players and up while the Hurricanes have just one.

The Hurricanes will not have another chance to reverse their fortunes against the Seminoles in the regular season, but Waardenburg made it clear that he and Miami want another rematch, should the two teams match up in the ACC Tournament this March.

3. A first-half shooting slump simply too deep to dig out of

It’s nearly impossible to win a basketball game after shooting 26% from the field in the first half, but Miami nearly did just that.

On the team’s first half performance, Larrañaga stated Miami was “a little out of sync trying to run offense … we missed some wide open shots which I think would have gotten us going.”

The Hurricanes made these wide open shots in the second half, which allowed them to open the game up both inside and outside and claw back from their 26-point deficit.

“When you’re not making your perimeter shots, it allows Florida State just to guard the rim, which they’re so good at,” Larrañaga explained.

Miami is shooting at a 46% clip on the year, and it shot at that percentage during their second half comeback. The Hurricanes can take encouragement from knowing that shooting around their average level is good enough to lead them back against a solid Florida State team.

However, the Canes cannot overcome such a poor half of shooting in other big games to come this season.

4. Isaiah Wong stepped up when called upon

Down by 24 at halftime and seemingly unable to take the lid off of the basket, the Hurricanes were in desperate need of a catalyst to provide a way back into the game.

Enter Isaiah Wong.

The third-year guard out of New Jersey lit it up for 18 of his 22 points on the day in the second half, including two massive 4-point plays, both of which sent the Watsco Center into a frenzy.

Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong drives to the basket during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong drives to the basket during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

“Zay’s amazing, and it’s not something that’s a surprise to you in the game because you see it every day,” Waardenburg said of his teammate. “He works on shots like that, he puts a tremendous amount of effort into his game in practice and on the court.”

The resilience shown by the entire team and Wong in particular is encouraging for the Hurricanes who will certainly continue to lean on their star guard, alongside backcourt partners Kameron McGusty and Charlie Moore.

Although the would-be game-winner didn’t fall Wong’s and Miami’s way, the potential NBA prospect proved that he is someone the Hurricanes can count on in tough spots going forward.

Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong shoots a fadeaway during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Wong shoots a fadeaway during the first half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

“I was trying to attack the paint [on the] last possession, but they trapped me and I just went off of instinct and shot the ball,” Wong said of the final shot.

5. Rowdy Watsco Center provides reason for optimism despite loss

“That was probably the loudest game I’ve ever been a part of at the Watsco Center,” Waardenburg said after the game.

For a program that has missed the postseason each of the last three seasons and gone through a pandemic which took fans out of the arena during that span, this revelation from a sixth-year senior holds weight.

Canes fans throw up the U before the start of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Canes fans throw up the U before the start of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

In recent years, the Watsco Center has been a relatively docile environment, and packed stands have not been the norm.

Larrañaga and his players can take pride in the fact that their performance this season has re-energized a fan base and pushed Miami basketball back into the national conversation.

On a day that featured an energetic cameo from new head football coach Mario Cristobal which got the crowd rocking, the atmosphere inside the arena provided evidence that this team is moving in the right direction.

Football head coach Mario Cristobal hypes up the crowd during a timeout in the second half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022.
Football head coach Mario Cristobal hypes up the crowd during a timeout in the second half of Miami’s game versus Florida State in the Watsco Center on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

“I was thrilled to see the place was sold out and our students turned out in large numbers, it made for an absolutely electric atmosphere,” Larrañaga said. “I see the students because it’s a huge group that was there today, and they were going crazy, so we thank them for that.”