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Baseline Breakdown: Dissecting FSU basketball’s loss at Notre Dame

A tough L at ND.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, confession: I wasn’t seated on the baseline for this one, instead getting more of a bird’s eye view from midcourt above the fans in another media seating area. I actually liked the new perspective, and being farther from the court made it tougher for the stench of FSU’s play to make it up to me— so that was cool. But how did No. 14 Florida State fall 84-72 at Notre Dame? How much time you got?

Above the Rim

This was actually not as tough an environment as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps it was Notre Dame’s struggles of late, but there did not seem to be much real belief from the Irish faithful early; they were pretty tame. It was only when ND pushed its lead into the teens in the second half that they really got loud. Breaking: Notre Dame fans seem to prefer being frontrunners (I know, shocking).

They should have been confident from well before the game if they’d put any stock into a curiosity that wound up proving prophetic. During warmups, the net into which the Seminoles were shooting developed a snag and wouldn’t allow balls through. It was addressed a couple of times but kept reoccurring until it was finally fixed for good.

But you wouldn’t have known that watching FSU try to make even the most routine buckets. Florida State was horrendous from point-blank range, missing on 13 of 27 layup opportunities. The Seminoles didn’t have much success from long range either, hitting just 3-15 from beyond the arc. And it didn’t get any better when the clock stopped: the ’Noles were a paltry 7-22 from the free throw line. That’s 32%— the same percentage Notre Dame shot on threes.

Frankly, a 12-point loss is rather misleading, as it wasn’t that close. Notre Dame led by 20 with less than five minutes to play, and this one really could have finished much worse for FSU. No one likes to lose, of course, but a road conference loss at ND is far from a black mark on the Seminoles’ resume.

On the Floor

But let’s get into more specifics about just how the Irish pulled away in this one. To begin, they went small. The tallest Notre Dame starter, V.J. Beachem, goes just 6’8, yet he was given the tall task of covering FSU’s Jonathan Isaac, who had a huge game against the Irish in Tallahassee. Beachem was very effective, holding Issac to just four points on 2-6 shooting. I asked Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey about keeping Isaac down, and along with crediting Beachem, he also cited ND’s ability to limit Isaac’s put-backs. Brey was pleased that Notre Dame held the talented freshman to just a lone offensive board.

But if we’re talking about playing big, no one stood taller than ND’s Bonzie Colson. Colson went for a career-high 33 points, along with a game-high 13 boards, more than FSU’s two leading rebounders combined. Colson hit from long range, showed freaky put-back ability, and even picked the pocket of Seminole point guard and Indiana native C.J. Walker.

Colson is simply better in space than those typically tasked with guarding him, and Brey took advantage of that. Likely aware that he couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the ’Noles in the paint, he spread the floor, no doubt expecting the Seminoles to overplay the passing lanes in hopes of preventing the Irish from going ballistic again from downtown. Brey got just this, but then countered intelligently with numerous backdoor cuts. And it doesn’t matter how much length you have, if you’re chasing your man to the rim, you’re done.

And Florida State did plenty of chasing, as the Irish guards routinely beat perimeter defenders off the dribble. It was like ND was on a power play for many of its half-court possessions.


FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton on the Seminoles’ defensive struggles: “We had a very difficult time handling Notre Dame’s spread offense.”

On Florida State’s own struggle to score: “The turnovers [Notre Dame] made, very few of them led to baskets.”

On FSU’s inability to make bunnies: “We had tremendous opportunities in the lane.”

On the Seminoles’ horrendous free-throw shooting: “7-22 will not give you a chance to be successful.”

On facing Colson: “He’s a tough matchup for anybody . . . That was too challenging for us today . . . He’s kind of like a point-five.”

I also asked Hamilton if he’d spoken with his team about the NCAA Selection Committee’s having FSU as a two seed on Saturday: “Very little . . . If you get caught up with where you’re ranked now, you won’t do much to finish the season.”

Finally, Hamilton spoke about just when Florida State caught Notre Dame: “We lost to a team today that played exceptionally well.”

An ebullient Brey corroborated Hamilton’s comments about how well the Irish played, opening his remarks as follows: “Wow. That was a complete effort. Probably the best we’ve played, in league play, on both ends of the floor.”

On his players’ outlook on facing the ’Noles: “Our guys were excited to play these guys— they’re really good.”

Brey had a hunch about Colson breaking out on Saturday against FSU. Earlier in the day, he admitted to asking an assistant: “You think he can get 40 tonight?”

On how going small helped the Irish dictate personnel: “They had to adjust to us and substitute and play small . . . Being big may be overrated.”

On Florida State’s atrocious free-throw shooting: “I think our crowd was part of that.”

On how the smaller Irish out-rebounded the ’Noles 41-34: “Position and heart.”

On Steve Vasturia, who Brey said doesn’t even dunk in practice, throwing one down: “I think Leonard Hamilton was even laughing.”

On ND’s Rex Pflueger (6’6, 202) having a momentary dustup with FSU’s Michael Ojo (7’1, 304): “Thank God Ojo’s a peaceful man.”

Waiting at the Scorer’s Table

For the first time since the beginning of 2017, FSU will now have a week off between games; the last time Florida State had a week off, it proceeded to win five of six games against ranked teams. The Seminoles’g next challenge will be at Pittsburgh on Saturday, February 18.