Coral Gables, FL - It was senior forward Natasha Howard who stole the show once again for Florida State, but fellow senior guard Cheetah Delgado made the big plays at the end to help lift No. 18/17 FSU women’s basketball over Miami, 68-63, on Thursday night at the BankUnited Center.
Delgado made arguably the biggest basket of the night when the ball was in her hands with one minute left and the Seminoles (14-1, 2-0) leading 62-59 in a one-possession game. Delgado drove baseline and put up a floater that sank through to give FSU the two-possession edge. The Kissimmee, Fla., native would later make a pair of free throws to help ice the game for the ‘Noles.
Howard put together another monster effort, finishing with a career-high tying 27 points for the second consecutive game as well as a career-high tying 18 boards. The double-double marked the 32nd of her career, breaking the school record formerly held by FSU legend Sue Galkantas (1981-84). Howard finished 11-of-17 from the field and is now shooting 63-of-89 over her last seven games.
“Natasha has been used to being Robin and now she has taken on the role of Batman for our team,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “It was a gutsy team effort tonight because every time Miami found a way to get back into it, we dug deep and did what we had to do defensively. We’re happy to be 2-0 in the ACC right now and we’ve got a big game on Sunday at home against a good North Carolina team.”
Delgado tied her career high with 10 assists and recorded her second career double-double by adding 10 points. Redshirt sophomore Morgan Jones came up big in the second half, hitting four 3-pointers to tie her season high for the third time. Jones finished with 17 points.
Florida State’s 14-1 start is its best start thru 15 games since also having the same record in the 1982-83 season. It is also the sixth time the ‘Noles have started 2-0 in the ACC. FSU has won 10 consecutive games against Florida schools, and its current 10-game win streak is tied for the second longest in school history.
The Seminoles finished the game shooting 26-of-68 (38.2 percent) from the field while the Hurricanes (9-6, 1-1) shot 35.3 percent. FSU held a slight rebounding edge, 49-47, and held a decisive edge in second-chance points, 15-7.
Both teams picked up their offensive play early in the second half. FSU went on an early 6-0 run to take a 37-33 lead highlighted by a 3-ball from Jones, but Miami tied it right back up with a long-range shot from Krystal Saunders at 39-39. A pair of jumpers from Delgado helped the ‘Noles to a 44-43 lead at the first media timeout of the second half at the 15:25 mark.
Jones did her best to break the game open, nailing her fourth 3-pointer from straightaway with 8:35 left in the game to give FSU its largest lead at 55-48. Following a made jumper by Caprice Dennis, Howard came back with a couple of free throws to put FSU ahead 57-50 with 8:07 left on the clock.
FSU tried to take control from there, but Miami came back with a quick 5-0 run as Keyona Hayes hit a layup inside and Saunders hit her fourth 3-ball of the game with 6:27 left to cut the lead to 57-55.
Jones would hit a big 3-pointer from around 23 feet to put FSU up 47-43 earlier in the second half. The play was significant in that it was assisted by Delgado, marking her 240th career assist to crack the Top 20 list at FSU in just her 48th game played.
Howard picked up the slack early for the ‘Noles with Slaughter picking up two quick fouls, scoring six points as FSU to an 8-5 lead with 15:46 remaining in the first half. Howard’s teammates looked for her in the post and she delivered, using a few nice moves to get better looks at the basket. Jones started the scoring with a pull-up jumper from 15 feet to put the ‘Noles on the board on their first possession.
Miami’s Caprice Dennis and Krystal Saunders nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to put Miami ahead 15-12 with 10:51 remaining in the first half. However, FSU responded with a jumper in the paint from Howard, then a reverse layup by Jones to take a 16-15 lead. Slaughter then got an easy put-back to add to the lead at 18:15 with 8:28 left in the first half.
A 3-ball by Miami’s Saunders capped a small flurry of points by the Hurricanes as they led 27-24 at the last media timeout of the first half. A 7-0 run was highlighted in the Miami surge as a turnaround jumper by Jassany Williams gave the ‘Canes a 31-24 lead. However, FSU responded when Jones hit a long 3-pointer from the wing and Brittany Brown finished a layup in transition to cut the deficit to 31-29 with 1:28 left in the half.
Despite an ensuing layup by Miami’s Adrienne Motley, Howard buried a mid-range jumper from the wing as the half expired to leave the ‘Noles trailing 33-31. The ‘Canes were just the third opponent to reach the 30-point mark at the half, and it marked FSU’s first time trailing at the half since facing Michigan State on Dec. 4.
Howard led FSU with 16 points at halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, adding nine rebounds through the game’s first 20 minutes. Delgado helped the ‘Noles with six assists, while Jones added seven points.
Florida State returns home to host No. 13/12 North Carolina in its ACC home opener on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 1 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Center. The game will be televised on FOX Sports Florida and a host of other regional networks with Tom Werme and Debbie Antonelli on the call.
For more information on Florida State women's basketball, follow the Seminoles on Twitter at @FSU_WBasketball and like their official Facebook page (Facebook.com/FSUWomensBasketball).