Youth. It's been a major factor in the performances of both the FSU football and basketball teams this year. For the former, we spoke frequently about how inexperience, regardless of talent, can portend inconsistency, and throughout the season, that was indeed the case. On the hardwood, it's been just as evident, if not more.
Through the first half of Florida State's 77-73 win over the NC State Wolfpack in Tallahassee on Monday, the 'Noles looked as good as they have this season. The Seminoles exploited a soft NC State defense, working into the lane effortlessly to get good looks inside, while hitting 6-14 (42.9%) of their attempts from three-point range. Dwayne Bacon got some confidence back from long range, nailing two of three from deep early. In the first half, the Wolfpack looked terrible. On a handful of misses, they failed to even draw iron. As their own head coach Mike Gottfried told us after the game, "We looked like the Bad News Bears at times."
And it's somewhat understandable. You know how the 'Noles were playing on short rest after Saturday's noon home tilt against Clemson? Well NCSU played Saturday after that-- and then had to travel. So when FSU led 36-20 with 3:09 left in the first half, it rather felt like the blowout was imminent. However, the Seminoles were unable to deliver a knockout blow. And then, in the second half, NC State made repeated runs at the 'Noles.
But let's give credit where credit is due. The Wolfpack's Cat Barber, who's also the ACC's leading scorer, was out of his mind in the second half, posting 19 points on 7-11 shooting with three assists and no turnovers while playing every minute of the game. The FSU defense of Barber was often serviceable-- he's just that talented, and he got hot, along with Caleb Martin, who drilled 4-6 threes in the second stanza.
And it's not like the 'Noles went cold on offense. They were quite careful with the ball, registering just 10 turnovers, their lowest total since opening ACC play at Clemson, when they had nine. And Florida State had one more point in the second half (39) than it did in the first (38). The freshmen were huge. Bacon went for 20. Malik Beasley had 15. And Terance Mann provided a very nice line in just 11 minutes on the floor: 7 points on 3-3 shooting including a three, four rebounds, a block, a steal, and two assists (double the number point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes had in 25 minutes).
Big picture, the type of otherworldly barrage that NC State threw at the 'Noles in the second half (58.6% shooting, 7-14 on threes) can crumble lesser teams. But although the 'Pack trimmed the 'Nole advantage to just two several times, including in the game's last minute, FSU always answered, and never trailed after the early going. As Leonard Hamilton said following the victory: "We overcame tonight when we very well could have faltered."
So, my primary observation from the sideline for this important win was that these young Seminoles have grown up quite a bit since the daunting beginning of their conference slate. They're certainly not yet a veteran squad, but they occupy an intermediary, neophyte-like role: they've not matured to the point of crushing a team when they could, but they have grown up enough to arrest momentum when it swings to the opposition. It's an inherently ambivalent takeaway, I know, but consider the upside: the more positive half of that conclusion wasn't true a month ago.