Nine o'clock tipoffs can present an interesting choice: do you tune in and perhaps get to bed a little later than normal, or do you skip hoops in favor of sleep? If you opted for the former on Wednesday night, you know that the Seminoles chose the latter in dozing through much of an 86-80 loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Wednesday night in Tallahassee.
When FSU began its ACC schedule, most attributed the Seminoles' 0-3 start to their young lineup learning the nightly grind of playing in the nation's premier conference. Well now the 'Noles have posted their second three-game conference skid this year, and the reason could once again be the freshmen-- but instead of fueling up on experience, perhaps this time they're running out of gas. The freshman wall is a reality brought about by new collegiate players not being used to playing so long into the spring. You can condition all you want, but you're simply not used to it, neither physically nor mentally.
Frankly, you almost hope that this is the case, as the alternative is far worse, and that's that this team, following a difficult loss to rival Miami, has splintered. Remember, these are former superstars-- they haven't faced much adversity, basketball wise. When Dwayne Bacon was asked after that first 0-3 stretch, I believe he said that the last time he'd lost three consecutive grade was in middle school.
Still, you'd hope this team, backed into a corner with its NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, would come out swinging. It did not. The Jackets finished at 54% from the floor, but for most of the game, which Tech never trailed and led by 17 with 8:05 left, that percentage was in the upper 50s, threatening the 62% that Syracuse shot against Florida State a week ago in New York. The dribble-drive that the Orange used was once again far too successful against the FSU defense, as the 'Noles continually gave up the lane late in the shot clock.
But while Syracuse drilled long balls despite defenders' best efforts, Tech players didn't need to, because that effort wasn't present until the game's final five minutes, when the Seminoles pressed and extended the game. Prior, open looks were the norm for Georgia Tech, as FSU played terrible defense away from the ball and failed to fight through screens effectively. 12 offensive rebounds extended numerous GT possessions. When you shoot 42.9% from long range (9-21), one three has a decent chance of dropping-- getting two and three attempts pretty much assures it. That's how the Jackets notched 43 in each half: by averaging 1.211 points per possession.
The Florida State offense wasn't bad, competing at 1.143 PPP. The 'Noles shared the ball well, posting a season-high 13 assists, but FSU's opponent once again found a way to take away the Seminoles' top scorers. What had been a 24-game streak of scoring in double figures for Malik Beasley is now a two-game streak of failing to do so, and Dwayne Bacon scored 10 points on inefficient 3-14 shooting, including 0-4 from beyond the arc. At this point, there's not much reason to fear him from long range, which helps teams take away his ability to penetrate in the half court.
Terance Mann led Florida State in scoring for the first time all season with 18, and he played a very nice game. He provided a solid spark after the 'Noles fell behind in the game's early going (again). He hit 6-7 FGs, his lone three-point attempt, 5-6 from the line, and snagged five boards, two steals, and an assist in 30 minutes of work.
But here's the problem, and it's no slight to Mann: he can't be your leading scorer. He's not that guy. He's a very valuable player, and I'm a big fan of his game and what he brings to this team as a "glue guy"-- but if he's leading FSU in scoring, the opposition is going to emerge victorious quite often, and other teams know it.
Devon Bookert stood out again, and should have the respect of every Seminole fan for his grit and leadership this year. He chipped in 15 points on 3-5 three-point shooting while leading the 'Noles with 35 minutes. After the game, a dejected Bookert, a senior trying to make the most of his final shot at the Big Dance, commented about the offensive rebounds surrendered by FSU: "You go through all that time and effort, and then it comes out the opposite result of what you want." If Florida State doesn't figure its issues out before a critical Saturday date with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, that statement could also describe the Seminoles' season.