The FSU basketball team bounced back well from a road loss to North Carolina last weekend with a resilient 83-80 win over No. 15 Notre Dame on Wednesday night to move to 17-2 on the year, 5-1 in the ACC, good for a tie atop the standings. What were some of the ways in which Florida State was able to overcome off nights from some of its best players and come away with a victory over a top-15 team? Let’s take a look:
Above the Rim
To say Florida State struggled offensively in the early portion of Wednesday’s win over Notre Dame is not doing it justice. The Seminoles opened the game 7-21 (33.3%) from the floor, many of which came from misses off of point-blank shots inside the paint. The same offense that has led the way throughout Florida State’s improbable run through this trying stretch of conference play looked out of sorts and could not right the ship early on.
Somehow in spite of this, Florida State led for over 10 minutes of the opening half while many notable areas of the Seminoles’ game were going horribly wrong. As it turns out, the difference maker in this situation was rebounding.
The ‘Noles outrebounded Notre Dame 20-11 over the first half, owning the Fighting Irish on the offensive glass 8-1, and outscored them in second-chance points 10-3. ND cut into that rebounding margin in the second half, in large part thanks to more of Florida State’s shots falling which kept the Seminoles off the offensive glass. However, that second half, when FSU’s offense returned to the status quo, more than made up for the difference.
It was not a night where many of the usual suspects led the way on offense. Dwayne Bacon, Terrance Mann, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State’s three veteran scorers, combined for a disappointing 19 points on 9-22 shooting.
While those three struggled, the Irish had about as perfect a three-point shooting game as you will ever see, hitting 15-21 (71.4) outside shots. Some of this was admittedly due to some open looks brought on by over-eagerness on defense. The vast majority, however, were simply well-taken shots on contested looks.
How you ask was Florida State able to overcome all these obstacles and come out on top? The Seminoles’ young talent shone through. FSU’s four first-year players who played significant minutes combined to score 48 of the Seminoles’ 83 points (57.8%). Jonathan Isaac, the projected lottery pick, stood out, putting together what must be considered the best all-around game of his collegiate career. Isaac finished with a career-high 23 points on 7-9 shooting and was a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line, including four clutch free throws late in the game to preserve the win.
Isaac’s paint presence at both ends of the floor may have been just as impressive as the scoring ability he showcased. He snatched 10 rebounds, earning his second consecutive double-double. Defensively, Leonard Hamilton challenged his team to accumulate nine blocks against the Irish. The Seminoles accomplished this, finishing with 11 and it would seem Isaac took this to heart as he personally notched seven blocks, shattering his previous career high of two.
For some perspective on how startling Isaac’s seven-block showing was, it’s worth noting that Isaac racked up a combined 17 blocks over his first 15 games at Florida State. Furthermore, his seven blocks are more than the Seminoles had as a team in all but four of their previous 18 games this season.
Isaac’s play was supplemented by some other young role players. Three-point specialist PJ Savoy finished with 12 points on 3-6 shooting from outside the arc, with all of his points coming over a 3:07 stretch in the first half. Fellow freshman CJ Walker and Trent Forrest rounded out the freshman rotation nicely with nine and four points, respectively.
One of the biggest strengths of this team is that all players seem very bought in on a team-first mindset. This was evident in Bacon and Rathan-Mayes stepping back to let Isaac shine down the stretch of the game. While not being relied on to score, Rathan-Mayes ran the offense to great effect, finishing with seven assists to one turnover while Bacon added four rebounds and extended his double-digit scoring streak to 28 games, sneaking in with 11 points.
What kept FSU around in the middle of a mediocre first half at the offensive end was the same chaotic defense that we have grown accustomed to from this year’s Florida State team. Entering Wednesday, Notre Dame averaged 9.4 turnovers per game and had a 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio, the best in the NCAA. ND’s most turnovers in a single game this season ahead of Wednesday was 14. In the first half, the Irish committed a staggering 13 turnovers. Now, some of these were of the dead-ball variety, such as traveling, and were not impacted by FSU’s defensive play. The vast majority, however, were thanks to the busy hands and frenzied, intense defense put on display by the Seminoles. The Irish finished with 18 turnovers, by far their most this season. In his postgame press conference, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton cited the number of forced turnovers as the biggest reason why the ‘Noles were able to overcome Notre Dame’s historic perimeter shooting performance.
For as poor as Notre Dame’s ball control was, FSU’s was equally dismal, especially in the first half. The Seminoles committed 14 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, mixing some errant passes with some poor passing decision as well as some shoddy ball security which allowed Notre Dame to rack up five first-half steals.
That all changed out of halftime, though, as in the final 20 minutes, Florida State mounted a mere four turnovers, one of the Seminoles’ most secure halves so far this season. Sure, this was aided by a half which was slower in pace thanks to an overwhelming number of fouls, but the Seminoles’ ball control took a major uptick after the halftime break.
Isaac was the clearest example of these halftime adjustments. He committed four first-half turnovers, never truly settling into the game. In the second half, he played 17 minutes and committed one turnover. It’s no coincidence that he took over after the intermission.
Florida State’s depth was tested more on Wednesday than in probably any game this season. First-year players Isaac and Braian Angola-Rodas both left in the first half with injuries. Isaac returned, but Angola-Rodas did not, sporting a walking boot on the bench during the second half.
This caused Savoy to play 14 minutes, nearly double the 7.9 he averaged this season entering Wednesday, and brought walk-on Brandon Allen into the lineup for his first extended on-court time in ACC play. Jarquez Smith also posted 21 minutes, well above the 13 he averaged over FSU’s first 18 games.
Angola-Rodas’ status remains unknown at this time, but if it is a severe injury, it would be a difficult long-term test of Florida State’s depth without one of its role players that rounds out the team’s depth nicely.
Here’s what Hamilton had to say after the win over the Fighting Irish:
Florida State Seminoles Basketball Head Coach Leonard Hamilton gives his thoughts on the nail-biting win over Notre Dame.Posted by TomahawkNation.com on Wednesday, January 18, 2017
In addition to Hamilton, we talked to a number of players on the team including Jonathan Isaac
and Dwayne Bacon.
Waiting at the Scorer’s Table
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel that is this stretch of six straight games against ranked teams. The light comes after the sixth and final such game this Saturday when the Seminoles play host to No. 12 Louisville in another matchup sure to test Florida State’s resolve.