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Basketball Breakdown: FSU Sweeps Clemson

The Seminoles earned their second ACC road victory this month.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an avalanche of fouls—many called 30+ feet away from the basket—Florida State fought hard for the full 40 minutes and found a way to walk away from a packed Littlejohn Coliseum with a win.

Above the Rim:

  • In recent road games against Pitt and ND, FSU seemed to lack focus and intensity on the defensive end. That trend did not continue yesterday. FSU forced a live-ball turnover on Clemson’s opening possession (leading to a highlight reel ally-oop from Mann to Isaac) and maintained relentless pressure on the ball throughout the entire game. If not for a tremendous performance by senior Jaron Blossomgame and the highest FT rate for an FSU opponent all season, this game very well could have been another blowout—and it started with defense.
  • Speaking of “could have been a blowout,” FSU really played much better than the last minute win would indicate (especially when you consider how tough Clemson is to beat at home). The ‘Noles had a better efg%, lower turnover percentage, higher offensive rebound percentage, higher assist rate, more steals, more blocks, and a better FT percentage. But thanks to an enormous foul disparity between the two teams (it finished 28-21, but that includes Clemson intentionally fouling late), Clemson was able to stay in the game.
  • With so many fouls called, FT shooting was a critical aspect of this game and FSU proved it can make them on the road when it matters. The Seminoles are a near average FT shooting team on the season, checking in at 69%. But Saturday the ‘Noles knocked down 23-28 attempts, with many of those coming down the stretch. And unlike some previous games where FSU shot well from the stripe, it wasn’t the team’s best FT shooter (Jonathan Isaac) carrying the load. Trent Forrest (66% on the season) went 5-7 and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (56% on the season) drained 5-6.
  • This game was enormous for FSU’s ACC Tournament seeding. The win moved the Seminoles to 11-5, a half game up on Louisville and Notre Dame. Perhaps of more importance, FSU’s win combined with Duke’s loss in Miami means FSU is a game up on both of their next two opponents. As long as the ‘Noles can grab 1 victory in their last 2 games, a double bye seems likely. Beat both Duke and Miami and FSU can still mathematically tie UNC for the best regular season record in the ACC. Huge tip of the cap to the players and coaching staff for having the team in this position after being projected 9th in what is widely considered the best conference in the land.

Court Level:

  • I’m starting to run out of adjectives to describe XRM’s improvement from last year. Tomahawk Nation was ahead of nearly everyone outside the team in terms of recognizing Rathan-Mayes’ significance to FSU’s success this season, running this feature profile nearly two months ago, but now the region and even the nation is starting to catch on. BC’s head coach Jim Christian called him the best on-ball defender in the league, while UNC standout turned announcer Jason Capel said he should be strongly considered for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Both of those statements are true, as X has displayed nearly inconceivable progress on defense from last year to this year. Of course, almost as remarkable is how he has transformed from an inefficient volume shooter pretending to play point guard to a true lead guard capable of directing the offense, creating plays for his teammates, and scoring when the team needs him to be assertive. Over the last three games, X has 23 assists to just 2 turnovers. Twenty-three to two! His offensive rating against BC was an absurd 202 (the nation’s leader on the season has a rating of 138.8) and he followed that up with a 125 on the road in a crucial game for FSU, all while extending hounding defensive pressure out to 40 feet away from the basket on nearly every possession he’s on the court. In the article linked above, X stated that he “wanted to be a guy considered for first team All-ACC defense.” Consider that mission accomplished and some.
  • Coach Hamilton and his assistants did a masterful job managing foul trouble and minutes. Michael Ojo was whistled for two fouls in the first 4 minutes of both halves, limiting his overall time on the court to just 10 minutes. But Ham seemed to have a perfect sense of when to insert the big man in the second half, and Ojo was a critical part of FSU’s win. At one point late in second half, he scored six straight points for the garnet and gold, including back to back thunderous dunks. Similarly, Terance Mann fouled out in just 19 minutes, but his time on the court included a couple of assists, three steals, and a very timely offensive rebound putback late in the second half. Part of the reason Mann was able to play as late into the game as he did is due to Trent Forrest seeing 20+ minutes for the first time since December 31 during the win over UVA.
  • Speaking of Trent Forrest, what a game for the freshman from Chipley. Playing extended minutes due to Mann’s foul trouble, Forrest was huge down the stretch of a back and forth game. 9 points, 5 boards (including an important defensive board with 8 seconds left in the game), 2 assists, a steal, and several other deflections. Forrest was simply everywhere in the second half. Kudos to that young man for stepping up when his team needed him—especially at the FT line where he is still building his shot—and kudos to the coaching staff for having him ready to perform in a tough spot.
  • FSU only went 5-17 from three, but two of the five were by Phil Cofer and Terance Mann. Neither is known for their perimeter prowess, but both have started to show an improving ability to hit that shot. Mann, who has been encouraged by coaches and teammates alike to shoot more from deep, has only made 5 threes on the season and just 9 in his two years at FSU. But three of those nine have come since February 1st and he’s shooting 50% from deep this month. Meanwhile, Phil Cofer has made 12 threes in his FSU career, with 4 of those 12 coming since February 5th.
  • Dwayne Bacon might have only shot 3-14 from the field, but he was 5-5 from the FT line and more importantly, he stayed in the game mentally for all 31 minutes he was on the court. Bake can’t be expected to shoot lights out every night, but as we saw against Pittsburgh, the team needs him engaged and active on the floor every night regardless of his shooting. He did that yesterday and was a big part of why FSU walked away with a victory.

Waiting at the Scorer’s Table:

Florida State travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday, looking to sweep the Blue Devils. Duke is coming off back to back road losses to Syracuse and Miami and will be in desperate need of a win if they want any shot at a double bye in the ACCT.