Florida State (24-7) took the court for the first time in over two weeks this afternoon when they met the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (24-9). The rust showed early as the Noles struggled to find their initial rhythm. FSU committed four turnovers in the first four minutes (7 total in the first quarter) and MT was able to take a small 7-4 lead. FSU was able to get their sea legs after that and mostly traded baskets with the Blue Raiders for the rest of the quarter. The Noles were only down a point at 16-15 to begin the second quarter.
All-ACC forward Shakayla Thomas (11pts, 5reb) received her first start since November 28th and the Noles were clearly determined to run their offense through Thomas early. Unfortunately, Thomas picked up her second foul at the end of the first quarter and had to sit. From there Leticia Romero (17pts, 7reb, 4ast) stepped up and scored FSU's next five points to keep the game close.
Early in the second quarter FSU hit MT with a 10-0 run to widen the lead to 27-18. Alex Johnson (22pts, 4reb, 4stls) stopped the bleeding with a layup. Johnson was big for the Blue Raiders and really had her way down low until she picked up her fourth foul later in the game and had to sit. Johnson's play sparked MT and they went on a 9-3 run of their own to end the first half only down three points at 30-27.
FSU head coach Sue Semrau expressed frustration at halftime with all of the fouls that were being called. The Noles had their front line most affected by the whistles as there were 10 fouls spread out among the front court players. Thomas was most affected as she had to miss the entire second quarter saddled with foul trouble. MT was only down three at half despite only having one three point basket and suffering from a 20-10 rebounding disadvantage. The main reason for this was that FSU committed 14 turnovers in the first half.
In the third quarter the game remained close initially. MT point guard Ty Petty (10pts, 7ast) was doing a good job controlling tempo and Johnson continued her good work inside for the Blue Raiders. However, the Seminoles found their rhythm at the end of the quarter and hit MT with an 8-2 run to take a 49-42 lead into the fourth with Emiah Bingley hitting a triple as the clock wound down.
Early in the fourth the Noles made their move and it wasn't just one player doing the damage. FSU started the quarter on a 14-4 run and several players contributed. Adut Bulgak (15pts, 9reb, 3blk), Maria Conde, and Romero all scored during the stretch. This run propelled FSU to a 63-46 lead with 4:34 left in the game. To their credit the Blue Raiders didn't give up but the deficit was too large and the Noles cruised from there to the 72-55 victory.
As we discussed, FSU was rusty early with turnovers and overall sloppy play. However, the Noles were able to right the ship with Bulgak and Romero leading the way. FSU used a familiar formula to get this win. They dominated on the boards out rebounding MT 41-22 and they cut their turnovers in half in the second half only committing seven in the second half. The Seminoles have proved in the past that they are capable of efficient offense when they stay away from turnovers and this proved to be the case again today as they were able to pull away in the second half.
Another key to the game was that Middle Tennessee only went 2-12 from behind the arc in the game (FSU was 5-10). MT leading scorer Brea Edwards also had a bit of an off game with only 11 points although she did have 10 rebounds.
It is a good sign that the Noles played so well when Thomas had an off game by her standards (mostly due to foul trouble). Romero and Bulgak stepped up today. Both veterans had very nice all around games and FSU obviously needs that strong play to continue if they hope to advance further. Kai James also played well. James again made the most of her limited opportunities to score nine points on only four shots. Brittany Brown continues to do all of the little things and today she had a double double (10pts, 10reb).
This is the NCAA Tournament so any win is a good win. It's all about surviving and advancing in March and the Noles did that today.
Texas A&M defeated Missouri State 74-65 so FSU will face the Aggies on Monday.