Florida State traveled north to New Jersey to play a “neutral” site game against UConn and led by double-digits for most of the second half before holding on for a 79-71 victory.
The game got off to an inauspicious start. Before a minute of action took place, fans, players, and coaches were treated a video review, resulting in a flagrant hook-and-hold foul on Christ Koumadje. The Huskies turned that into a 5-point play, building a quick 7-0 lead. Yes, FSU got off to yet another slow start.
However, the Seminoles turned up the pressure on defense and slowly chipped away, eventually taking a 17-16 lead on a fast break layup from M.J. Walker. The rest of the first half became the David Nichols and Mfiondu Kabengele show, as FSU surged ahead for a 39-33 lead at intermission (30 of the 39 points came from the bench).
Nichols, a grad transfer who has been demonstrating more and more comfort with his new teammates, had his best half of basketball while wearing the Garnet and Gold. He showcased a deadly stroke from outside, looked under control running the offense, and defended well. In 12 first half minutes Nichols had 13 points on just 6 shots, 2 rebounds, and a steal.
Meanwhile, Kabengele looked like a blossoming NBA player. The 6’10 redshirt sophomore hit a traditional three, converted multiple “and-1s,” threw down a vicious put-back dunk, protected the rim, and crashed the glass. He was seemingly ubiquitous.
The second half featured another flagrant hook-and-hold foul in the first two minutes, this time on UConn. FSU combined that with a step-back three, a pretty fast-break dunk, and two free throws, all by Terance Mann, to jump out to a 47-33 lead with 17:18 left in the game. During that sequence, Mann became the 47th Seminole player to score 1,000 points in his career (while wearing a No. 41 jersey after his usual No. 14 got torn).
The choppy play continued, as the refs appeared intent to blow their whistles on nearly every possession, while UConn coach Danny Hurley whined after every stoppage. By the under-12 timeout, Florida State had a 55-40 lead, but faced some serious foul trouble with Koumadje and Kabengele both on the bench with four. By the under-8 timeout, Florida State had three guys with four fouls (Nichols picked up his 4th while standing still after securing a defensive rebound), 21 fouls overall, and the lead was cut to 11 at 61-50.
Back-to-back threes by top-35 recruit Alterique Gilbert cut the lead to seven, 63-56. But the ’Noles raced down the court and redshirt freshman Anthony Polite buried a corner three to immediately put FSU back up by double-digits.
However, the fouls continued to mount. FSU was whistled for offensive fouls on three consecutive possessions while trying to drive to the rim, the last one resulting in Kabengele fouling out in just 15 minutes. UConn cut the lead to five with just more than a minute to go after a missed alley-oop by Mann led to a fast-break bucket for the Huskies. But that was as close as they’d get, with Trent Forrest and company making their free throws down the stretch—including two after Hurley finally received the technical foul he earned.
Mann was a monster, pacing FSU with 20 points, while also grabbing 9 rebounds. Koumadje hauled in a career-high 11 boards in just 17 minutes, and Forrest snared a career-high 5 steals.
With the win, FSU moves to 8-1 on the season and return to Tallahassee for a two-game home stand against Southeast Missouri State and North Florida. The Seminoles should also move into the top-10 after No. 9 Kentucky lost to Seton Hall earlier today.