It was a horrendous beginning. And it wasn’t the prettiest finish. But somewhere between the opening tip and the final buzzer, the second-seeded Florida State men’s basketball team cobbled together a 74-68 win over the seventh-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Tournament’s quarterfinals.
VT opened in a zone, against which the Seminoles were utterly ineffective early on. At the onset, the ’Noles missed shot after shot long, typically a sign of nerves and playing tight— or being a bit too amped. Whatever the reason, FSU stayed in it early due to domination in the paint, on the boards, and from the free-throw line. Michael Ojo was a key cog, netting Florida State’s first six points in the paint in what wound up being a 42-20 stomping of Tech inside.
However, Ojo doesn’t have a great feel for where he should be against zone defenses like the one the Hokies employed. That wouldn’t have been a huge issue, had the referees allowed him to leverage his imposing size, but the officiating pattern established made it quite clear that interior physicality would be relegated to a minimum in this one. I was rather surprised that FSU went until almost halftime before getting sniper P.J. Savoy into the game. Against any defense, you don’t play to survive— you have to play to exploit, defeat, and punish.
But back to Ojo. After playing more than five minutes to start the game (longer than I recall him remaining in a contest all year), it became clear that Ojo was a liability, and he played just 11 minutes total. The solution for FSU — a very nice adjustment by the ’Nole coaches — was to go smaller and utilize a zone defense to offset this consolation. The move also allowed the Seminoles to up the tempo of the contest, which was the real turn of this game after VT led 35-33 at the half.
The Florida State zone, which had a 1-2-2/1-3-1 look, basically dared Virginia Tech to continue what proved to be an unsustainable three-point efficiency. After hitting over 46% from beyond the arc in the first half, VT went 1-10 in the final stanza. The long rebounds that often settle back into the offense’s hands found FSU players instead, and the Seminoles out-rebounded the Hokies 45-31— defensive boards helped the ’Noles to an 8-0 advantage in fast-break points. Without man responsibilities, FSU also got into numerous passing lanes, which resulted in a whopping 12 steals.
Florida State also feasted on the offensive glass when it realized that it was off from afar, as the Seminoles grabbed 18 to Virginia Tech’s 8, which led to a 16-5 advantage in second-chance points. Who got it done? Jonathan Isaac and Terance Mann, who combined to secure 11 offensive rebounds. Isaac, after struggling to find space against the zone early on, showed tremendous determination in closing out the first half quite well, whereas Mann basically sealed the deal with five offensive boards in the second stanza.
Mann was representative of a Seminole squad that used its depth to simply wear down VT as the game progressed. Moreover, Dwayne Bacon deserves a nod for his persistence. Bacon was off all night, finishing with a team-high 17 points, albeit on 4-17 shooting. However, when it looked like he may have checked out, as he has at times this season, after being benched for the last five minutes of the first half, Bacon kept grinding, hitting 9-10 from the free-throw line. As mentioned, FSU as a team was great from the charity stripe, hitting on 19-23 attempts (83%).
While Bacon’s shot wasn’t really there, as he missed all five of his shots from long range, he nevertheless persevered and was a big part of leading this team to survive and advance against another NCAA Tournament team on a neutral court. And that’s what March is all about: you don’t always need to be your best— you just need to find a way to be a little better than your opponent over 40 minutes.
And speaking of advancing, Thursday’s win should be more than enough to lock up the chance of FSU playing its first two NCAA Tournament games in Orlando. If you’ve been waiting to book travel and/or accommodations, now’s a good time to pull the trigger.