Florida State played with fire once too often. Another slow start against an inferior foe. Again befuddled by a zone defense. And once more making a myth out of an opposing player. They're familiar tropes to these Seminoles-- but unlike so many other situations in which the 'Noles had escaped with a win, they left the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina anything but well. Dejected, disappointed are probably more accurate. And 0-1 in conference play is now factual following an 84-75 loss.
FSU began its conference slate by spotting Clemson a 9-0 home lead. It took the 'Noles more than five minutes to collect their first field goal, while the Tigers hit on four of their first six attempts. Slow starts like this have become the norm for Florida State, but they cannot remain so prevalent if the Seminoles hope to return to the big dance. It's not like those early points don't count just as much as the ones scored in a game's final moments. And when you concede nine to get things going and then lose by that precise margin? Ouch. Point being, this isn't some kind of quirky, unalterable characteristic: it's a disturbing trend that requires immediate addressing.
Perhaps the starting lineup needs juggling. We're just one game into ACC play, and the FSU substitution pattern is already rather predictable and stale, especially regarding the bigs. Smith for Bojanovsky at the two-minute mark. You can set your watch by it, as well as bet on how little it really means in the game (against Clemson, the two combined for 33 minutes and just six rebounds while committing eight fouls).
Exacerbating FSU's plodding out of the gate is the reality that it often encounters zone defense, and Saturday's game was no exception. Clemson employed an aggressive 2-3 zone that dared the 'Noles to beat it for open looks, but Florida State continues to react quite cluelessly when faced with zone looks, often taking a number of possession to come into anything that could even loosely be construed as an offense. Specifically, the Seminoles struggle to accept the mid-range elbow game that the zone often concedes, Malik Beasley withstanding. On several occasions, Beasley flashed to that spot, received the ball, turned and faced with the expectation of shooting (that's key) and drained a jumper.
Other than Beasley, Benji Bell had attacked the zone extremely well before seeing limited playing time on Saturday, and Phil Cofer is very resourceful at settling into a zone's soft spots. Cofer, however, was once again not dressed for FSU, and will have bone surgery on Monday to remove bone spurs from his ankle, as reported by Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat. Cofer could miss the remainder of the season, as bone spurs are an incredibly painful affliction, one that happened to end Larry Bird's career.
Of course, when Florida State has fallen behind early, it's been not only because of the zone but also often due to a Herculean effort from an opposing player. Jacksonville's Kori Babineaux dropped 31 points on the 'Noles courtesy of some tough runners, but beyond that, the three-point shot has been a big part of the damage done to FSU by a rotating cast of hot hands. Hofstra's Brian Bernardi posted 24 on 6-8 long-range shooting. DePaul's Aaron Simpson came off the bench to hit all five of his long balls and finish with 20, as did Ohio's Jordan Dartis, who notched 24 points by making more than half of his three-point attempts. No Seminole will forget the tear VCU's Melvin Johnson went on, hitting eight shots from beyond the arc to register 36, along with a trio of bombs helping Florida's KeVaughn Allen to 32.
However, in all of those games except the Hofstra tilt, the 'Nols emerged victorious. Another hot shooter emerged in Greenville on Saturday. But FSU's Houdini act faltered. Clemson's Jordan Roper went a staggering 7-10 on threes to finish with a team-high 23. It now seems evident that FSU has to develop a stopper of sorts, someone who can lockdown the opposition's best, even if it means sacrificing his own offensive output.
The irony of the 'Noles again being torched from afar is that the three nearly salvaged this one for FSU, which provided a bit of a silver lining by sniping efficiently for the second straight contest. Well, at least Beasley and Devon Bookert, anyway. The Seminoles finished at 38% from downtown, with the aforementioned duo going a combined 8-14. The rest of the team? 1-10.
And really, that stat serves as a microcosm for this game: beside the standout performances of Beasley and Bookert, this one was as forgettable for pretty much every other FSU player as it was for Seminole fans.