The Florida State men's basketball team picked up an extremely important conference win last night, topping the No. 13 Virginia Cavaliers by a 69-62 score. The scoring was rare early, reminiscient of most every FSU-UVA matchup of late, but the 'Noles would go on to show that they're far from the offensively challenged squad they used to be.
Speaking of offense, Dwayne Bacon and Jarquez Smith were pretty much it early on as the Seminoles battled though an ugly first half that included nine FSU turnovers, mostly unforced. Bacon put up 11 and Smith chipped in 8 to account for 19 of FSU's 25 first-half points on combined 7-11 shooting.
Smith played his best ball of the season, finishing a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays and converting on a smooth, sweeping hook coming across the lane. Smith moved particular well away from the ball, finding space nicely after setting perimeter screens. Smith certainly looks to be in the driver's seat to gain the lion's share of FSU's big-man playing time moving forward: he played 25 minutes, compared to just 12 for a highly ineffective Boris Bojanovsky, while impressive freshman center Chris Koumadje didn't get in at all in this one. It's also interesting to note that Michael Ojo, who has yet to play this season due to injury, did go through pre-game warmups.
The second half saw Florida State break through the UVA defense that has stymied it so routinely in the past. FSU efficiently executed an inside-out approach, penetrating the Cav defense at will and either finishing or kicking to long-range snipers, who hit big shot after big shot. Malik Beasley was 3-3 on threes, and Devon Bookert was 2-3, as the 'Noles hit 6-13 from downtown (an even more impressive stat when you consider that FSU missed its first five three-point attempts). Hitting from the outside has been quite important for the Seminoles lately, as defenses sought to pack it in against FSU early on. But when the garnet and gold is stroking it from range, the dribble drive opens up, which is a real lose-lose for opponents.
How effective was the Florida State attack in the second? FSU scored 44 points, which would have put them on pace for 88-- the most Virginia has conceded this season was 75, to Villanova. Overall, the 'Noles shot 63.2% from the field after intermission. The Seminoles were also deadly from the line, making 80.8% from the charity stripe; and because they attacked the rim so relentlessly, the 'Noles made more free throws (21) than UVA attempted (15).
FSU was suffocating defensively, repeatedly forcing the Cavaliers to settle for 18-footers, a recipe that saw the visitors finish at just 39.3% from the floor. UVA's leading scorer, Malcolm Brogdon, who came in averaging 17 PPG, totaled just 10 on 4-17 shooting. Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton referred to how, in years past, UVA had played tougher than the Seminoles, but negated that edge in his post-game comments: "I thought our guys matched their energy, matched their toughness." That was certainly evident on the boards, as the 'Noles finished with more defensive rebounds (26) than UVA had total boards (25).
It was a good night on the court for FSU, but also a nice showing in the stands for Seminole supporters. Yesterday, I published a piece about how the remaining weekend home games should be conducive to increased attendance for the 'Noles down the stretch, and last night a crowd of 9,158 backed that up. Florida State fans were on time and ready to go for this one, demonstrating an awareness of the game's urgency and a hunger to will their team to the victory. Also in attendance: scouts from nine different NBA teams-- I'm guessing they wanted to see how players like Bacon and Beasley performed against that Virginia defense. Test passed.