Close-call Canes triumph over Seminoles

Junior center Tonye Jekiri (No. 23) and redshirt junior guard Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) defend Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes during Wednesday night’s game. Capitalizing off 11 FSU turnovers, the Hurricanes defeated the Seminoles 81-77. Nick Gangemi // Photo Editor

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With tournament hopes on life support, the University of Miami Hurricanes fought off a furious rally from Florida State and defeated the rival Seminoles 81-77 Wednesday night at the BankUnited Center.

Florida State (15-14, 7-9 ACC) found themselves down 18 points with 4:52 to play in the game, but then Seminole guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes caught fire. The FSU freshman scored an astounding 26 straight points to for the Noles, and brought FSU to within three with 1:03 to play.

“Thirty points in the last five minutes? That… is… outrageous,” head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I’ve seen guys in the NBA go off. I saw Klay Thompson go off for 37 points in a quarter, and their quarters are a heck of a lot longer than [five] minutes. One of the greatest on-court performances I have ever seen.”

On the ensuing possession, FSU fouled Hurricane point guard Angel Rodriguez, who converted one of two free throw attempts – part of a very clutch free throw shooting performance down the stretch. Miami led 74-70.

Florida State then inbounded the ball to its on-fire freshman, who carried the ball up court. Rathan-Mayes, who dogged Rodriguez, drove to the right hand corner and attempted a three to bring the Seminoles to within one. The ball was halfway down before it popped out, and the ball glanced off the Seminoles out of bounds.

Junior center Tonye Jekiri received subsequent the inbounds pass, was quickly fouled and sank a pair of free throws to push the Hurricanes lead to 76-70. However, Florida State was not finished fighting. Another FSU freshman, Robbie Berwick, connected on a three-pointer to bring the score to 76-73 with 20.6 seconds to play.

From there, junior guard Sheldon McClellan hit two free throws, and Rathan-Mayes added three more with three free throws after being fouled. Jekiri was fouled next, and after hitting just one of two to make it a 79-76 game, Rodriguez fouled Rathan-Mayes before he could get a three up with 2.9 seconds left.

Rathan-Mayes connected on just one of the attempts and the Seminoles found themselves down by two with 1.9 seconds left in regulation.

Now, it was sophomore guard Davon Reed’s turn on the free throw carousel. Reed sank both of his attempts to push Miami’s advantage to four, which made it a two possession game.

Rathan-Mayes missed a half court shot as time expired, and the Hurricanes won 81-77 in a wild finish in Coral Gables. Rathan-Mayes scored 35 points for Florida State, including 30 points in the final 4:38. Thirty-five points tied Rathan-Mayes’ career high, and his performance left coaches and competitors alike in awe.

“I’ve been in a lot of close games, but I have never been in a game when a player just hits three after three after three,” Rodriguez said. “It’s frustrating.”

Rodriguez submitted one of his finest games of the season for the Hurricanes, leading the Canes (18-10, 8-7) with 25 points on 8-14 shooting, five assists, and four rebounds.

Reed added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Hurricanes in what continues to be a remarkable year for the sophomore. In September, Reed underwent knee surgery and did not return to the team until late December. Upon return, the guard has been critical to the team’s success and earned a regular spot in the team’s starting lineup.

McClellan scored 19 for the Hurricanes, including 17 in the second half. Jekiri continues to be a menace on the boards, grabbing 11 in total and scored 12 points to notch a double-double.

Although Florida State features three players on their roster standing at least seven feet, the Hurricanes won the rebound battle, out rebounding Florida State 37-23.

Foul trouble forced Larrañaga to go to a four-guard lineup against a large Seminole team. Jekiri received his fourth foul with just less than 12 minutes to play in the game, and freshman Omar Sherman received his third barely under the ten-minute mark. Larrañaga then decided to play the 6-foot-5 Reed as a stretch four, and Ivan Cruz Uceda at the five. It was a bold strategy against a team that features three 7-footers.

However, the Hurricanes continued to extend its lead, and had a 14-point advantage with 7:03 to play in the game with the four guard lineup. The Canes led 56-42. Miami’s floor spacing, ball handling and speed brought the crowd to life with their fast paced play. Miami’s largest lead was 18.

The Canes struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the first half, shooting just 10-25 from the field. The team was a putrid 1-10 from three-point range. Leading scorer McClellan scored only 2 points on 1-5 shooting in the first 20 minutes.

Florida State was equally woeful from the field in the first half, shooting 38 percent, but only trailed Miami 29-25 at the break.

In an odd play with 8:46 to play in the first half, McClellan was called for a technical foul. McClellan received a pass in the lane from Jekiri and rose into the air to dunk. His attempt was blocked from behind, and, while hanging on the rim, McClellan attempted to put the ball back in the hoop – a technical foul by the rulebook. Florida State was awarded two foul shots, converted both, and led 18-16.

After fighting off a nearly historic performance from Rathan-Mayes, Miami now faces an even bigger task at home again this weekend, hosting No. 15 North Carolina in a game critical to the Canes tournament hopes. Incredibly, Miami has defeated UNC in four consecutive games. It will be senior day for forward Joe Thomas and a number of Miami team managers.