This game was strength versus strength. As we have discussed, Notre Dame (26-1, 14-0 ACC) has dominated since joining the ACC entering the game with a sparkling 51-1 record in conference play which included a 29 game ACC winning streak. For their part the Seminoles (21-6, 11-3 ACC) were riding a 31 game home winning streak (15 against ACC opponents). Unfortunately for the Noles, ND was a little bit stronger in Tallahassee tonight and the Irish were able to down the Seminoles 73-66 in front of 5319 rowdy fans in this "Play 4 Kay" game.
The game started out close. Both teams got out to a bit of a slow start but Shakayla Thomas (14pts, 7reb) entered the game for FSU and immediately provided a lift. Thomas came in and scored six quick points and gave the Noles a 13-8 lead. The Irish took a 17-15 lead at the end of the first quarter powered by late three pointers from Marina Mabrey (9pts) and Arike Ogunbowale (11pts, 3reb).
In the second quarter ND started to heat up from behind the arc. The Irish hit FSU with a 14-0 run to widen the lead to 43-24. In that run ND hit four triples and FSU went cold. Usually in a run like that a main culprit is turnovers but in this one FSU only committed two turnovers. This run was fueled by FSU's struggles to hit shots. The offense was mostly working so the Noles were getting good looks they were just having trouble knocking them down. The Irish on the other hand were red hot. ND was 8-12 from three in the first half and that was the main reason that they took a 43-28 lead into halftime.
In the second half FSU showed heart. The Noles got two quick triples from Brittany Brown and Emiah Bingley to cut into the lead. Notre Dame cooled off a bit as they only had one three in the third quarter and FSU was able to take advantage to cut into the lead a bit. Ivey Slaughter (15pts, 10reb) did good work for FSU in the quarter. She had a nice offensive rebound and putback which she converted for a three point play that fired up FSU at the end of the quarter.
That sequence from Slaughter started FSU on an eight point run to cut the lead to 62-55 that caused Notre Dame to call a timeout early in the fourth quarter. After the timeout FSU had a chance to really make the game tight but the Noles missed a couple of jumpers and couldn't capitalize on the opportunity. ND scored five straight points and FSU was again down double digits with less than four minutes to play. From there FSU was able to fight back a bit but time ran out and FSU fell by a final score of 73-66.
There was time at the end of the game where FSU chose not to foul to stop the clock and ND smartly just held the ball for most of the shot clock. It is a bit peculiar that FSU chose not to foul to extend the game in that situation. When the game is close to the end it is important to maximize the number of possessions when you are behind. FSU didn't do that. It probably didn't cost them the game but it was a bit odd.
Overall the Seminoles didn't play that poorly tonight. However the Noles did shoot poorly especially in the first half. FSU shot 34.4% in the first half (1-8 3PT) while ND shot 50% (8-12 3PT) in the first half. The Irish were on fire from behind the arc in the first half. A big part of that was that FSU was losing shooters on the perimeter and ND was getting open shots. However, not every shot was wide open. ND also hit some contested threes. The main story of the first half was that ND made Florida State pay for their defensive lapses while the Noles were not able to return the favor often enough.
The hot Irish shooting in the first half was really the main story in this game. When they cooled off in the second half FSU cut the lead. The Seminoles won the second half 38-30. However when you are down at halftime by 15 to an elite team it really takes an improbable set of circumstances to come back and FSU didn't get that tonight.
This game stings for FSU but there are several positives to take out of tonight's game. FSU only had 10 turnovers (ND had 15). The Noles will beat a lot of teams with that kind of ball security. FSU also won the rebounding battle 36-32. The offense mostly worked in that the Noles were able to generate quality looks. They just need to do a better job of knocking them down. FSU also got quality games from Slaughter and Thomas in particular.
The Noles have now lost two straight but more importantly this game leaves Florida State with three conference losses. FSU is now in fourth place in the ACC. They need to stay in the top four to get the important double bye in the ACC Tournament. Miami is in fifth place one game behind FSU. The Canes and Noles meet in the last game of the regular season in a game which could end up being for that fourth place spot. FSU also needs to start winning again to protect a top four NCAA Tournament seed and the home games that come with it. FSU is projected to be on the four line and ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme says that the Noles will stay there even after the loss tonight. However it's obvious that any more losses will see FSU take a slide.
The Noles face NC State (18-9, 9-5 ACC) next in Raleigh at 7:30pm on Thursday, February 25. The Wolfpack are fighting for the NCAA Tournament (Creme has them as a 9 seed). They would love to get a top 25 win against FSU to bolster their chances. In reality they are probably in if they can upset the Noles.
The Wolfpack features a balanced offense led by junior guards Dominique Wilson and Miah Spencer. Junior forward Jennifer Mathurin leads the team with seven rebounds a game. The Wolfpack are not a team that does anything all that great but they are not terrible in many categories either. Even though they only shoot .307 from behind the arc FSU must contest all those shots because they do have the ability to get hot from deep. The Seminoles should have a decided advantage on the boards against the Wolfpack. Unless the Noles have a ton of turnovers NC State will probably have to shoot the lights out to get the upset. Sagarin has FSU as 10 point favorites.