No. 12 Florida State (17-2, 5-1 ACC) defeats Wake Forest (10-9, 2-4 ACC) 81-79 in an overtime thriller.
Wake Forest is a team struggling to find its footing in the ACC. Their best win was in Miami over the Canes 61-50. There isn’t much on the resume other than that nice win. The Deacons haven’t had much success against FSU recently. In their last three meetings the Seminoles have won by 30, 41 and 42 points.
WF is 120th in OPPP at .932 (FSU is fourth at 1.157). Wake is 123rd in DPPP at .880 (FSU is 51st at .830). The Demon Deacons are not a good shooting team and they don’t play enough defense nor do they rebound well enough to make up for the poor shooting.
The Deacons are led by 6’3 junior forward Elisa Penna who averages 15.2 points a game. Penna is a versatile big who can step out for the three but also has a nice midrange game. As a bonus she shoots 84% from the line.
At 11.4 points a game Amber Campbell is Wake’s only other double digit scorer. Campbell is a senior guard who is one of the best shooters on the team as well as being their premier perimeter defender. She also shoots 84% from the charity stripe.
Ariel Stephenson is the most athletic player on the team. The 5’10 junior averages nearly 10 points a game and is good for at least one beautiful drive a game as she is very good at attacking the basket. Alex Sharp is a 6’1 wing who is a rare player in that she leads the team in assists and rebounds.
Florida State starting point guard AJ Alix missed the game with flu like symptoms. She made the trip to Winston-Salem but stayed on the bench in warmups for the game. Nausia Woolfolk started in her place. It was Woolfolk’s first career start.
The game started out close as no team could build a sustained lead. However, at the end of the quarter the Deacs made their move. They scored the last four points of the first quarter and the first seven points of the second quarter to take a 28-21 lead on a triple from Stephenson. The Noles battled back but Wake forward Ona Udoh (who finished with a career high 19 points) scored four straight to end the half and give WF a 36-27 lead at halftime. This second quarter was the only time this year that FSU has scored in single digits for a whole quarter as they only scored six.
Wake shot 60% in the first half. The Deacons were finding the soft spots in the Seminole zone. When the Noles went to man Wake put FSU in the pick and roll. FSU chose to switch on all screens and WF was masterful at exploiting the mismatches this created. On top of all that the Noles were not playing with the energy they usually display.
The two teams traded baskets to begin the second half but then they both went into the cooler. Neither team scored for the next 2 and a half minutes until Shakayla Thomas hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 38-32. From there the two teams mostly traded baskets until Wake made another move. Imani Wright nailed a three to bring FSU to within four at 46-42. Wake then went on a 10-0 run to end the third quarter that was capped by a pair of threes in the final minute from Ivana Raca and Alex Sharp. It was Sharp’s ninth triple of the year and it was Raca’s fifth. The Noles were down 56-42 and things were looking bleak.
Sue Semrau opened the fourth quarter with a half court trap. This energized the Noles and they started turning the Deacs over. FSU started the fourth quarter on a 17-3 run to tie the game at 59 on a layup from Woolfolk after a Nicole Ekhomu steal. The run took 3 and a half minutes. To their credit the Deacs responded. Stephenson drove to the basket and got an old fashioned three point play. That started Wake on an 11-4 run that gave them a 70-63 lead with 2:40 left in the game.
The Noles battled back with four points from Thomas and a couple of clutch free throws from Ama Degbeon that pulled FSU to within two at 71-69. With 25 seconds left Penna hit a tough turn around jumper from 17 feet with the shot clock about to expire to put Wake back up four. After a couple of timeouts Imani Wright came down and drained a triple to bring FSU to within one. FSU fouled to stop the clock and Amber Campbell hit two pressure free throws. Wright came down and nailed another three with two Deacons running at her to send the game to overtime.
FSU jumped out to the lead in OT with Thomas scoring on successive possessions. Stephenson scored on a layup for Wake. FSU then had a minute and a half possession because they got four straight offensive rebounds (three from Degbeon) but they couldn’t turn the rebounds into points. The Deacs hit a free throw and Thomas scored on a layup with 33 seconds left to put FSU up three. After both teams had empty possessions Thomas missed an open layup with eight seconds left. The Deacons pushed the ball up court and Ivana Raca was fouled on a three by Wright (it was a good call). Raca hit the first to pull WF to within two. She missed the second and missed the third on purpose but Thomas got the rebound for the Noles to end the game.
FSU has only had two games before this one that had final margins in single digits so they don’t get much of a chance to show their fortitude. They showed it tonight. Coming back from 14 points down in the final quarter was impressive. Even more so because the Noles looked dead in the water after the third quarter and were missing their starting point guard.
Superlatives go out to Imani Wright with 31 big points including those two massive threes at the end of regulation. Shakayla Thomas was the only Seminole to score in the OT on her way to a double-double (28pts, 11reb). Ama Degbeon also had a double-double (10pts, 10reb). Five Noles played big minutes tonight; Thomas (33), Degbeon (37), Wright (44), Ekhomu (38) and Woolfolk (40). This will be something to monitor with Louisville looming.
The coaching staff deserves kudos as well. That half court trap changed the game. Without it FSU almost certainly goes down in this game.
In case you missed it, two FSU signees (Isabela Nicoletti and Valencia Myers) were named McDonald’s All-Americans on Tuesday. Both future Noles will play on the East squad.
The NCAA Selection Committee revealed the top 16 seeds as of today. FSU was #11 which would translate into a three seed. The seeds were revealed before tonight’s games were finished. FSU’s goal is to get a top four seed and the tournament home games that come with it.
FSU travels to Louisville to take on the #2 Cardinals (20-0, 6-0 ACC) on Sunday, January 21st at 5pm. The game will be carried on ESPN2. Louisville won at Pitt tonight 77-51. Sagarin has UL as a six point favorite.