(9) Florida State Seminoles (24-5, 12-4 ACC) defeat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-12, 6-10 ACC) 64-61 in the regular season finale for both teams.
Georgia Tech last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014. No current player on their roster has ever played in the Tourney. However, the Jackets did make the final of the WNIT last year falling to Michigan 89-79. The program is on the rise as head coach MaChelle Joseph will bring in a top 10 class next year featuring two top 25 players. This year though GT is back on track for the WNIT.
Even so, the Yellow Jackets are far from pushovers. Tech gets it done with defense. They rank 16th nationally in DPPP (FSU is 63rd). They employ a trapping style of defense that leverages their impressive depth. GT is not a great shooting team (246th in true shooting %) so they need to play great defense and get turnovers for easy shots. This is a big reason why they will likely miss the Tournament again as they rank only 344th in defensive turnover percentage.
Georgia Tech has 10 players averaging double digit minutes. However, Francesca Pan averages over 30 minutes a game. This makes sense because the 6’1 sophomore wing is their best player. She averages 13.8 points and is GT’s only real three point threat at 32.7%. Zaire O’Neil doesn’t start but the 5’11 senior forward is tough inside despite being undersized.
This game was close all afternoon. FSU’s largest lead was six and GT’s largest lead was five. Tech pressed the Noles from the opening tip to the closing buzzer. Coach Joseph unveiled 2-2-1 presses, 1-3-1 traps, man to man full court presses among others. The Seminoles didn’t respond very well to the pressure. GT forced eight turnovers in the first quarter alone. Fortunately for the Noles the Jackets weren’t able to turn the turnovers into points as FSU had a 13-12 lead after the first quarter.
The Seminoles continued to have a tough time finding rhythm in the second quarter. Tech started the quarter on a 7-1 run to take a 19-14 lead. FSU battled back with six straight points to take a 20-19 lead. From there the two teams mostly traded baskets and the Noles took a 29-28 lead into halftime.
The Seminoles opened the second half on a 5-0 run but GT would battle back to keep the game close with a 6-0 run to tie it at 34. From there neither team could build a lasting lead and the quarter ended with FSU leading 48-46.
In the fourth the teams started out trading baskets but the Noles got a bit of breathing room with a 6-0 run to take a 57-52 lead. However the Jackets wouldn’t quit. They eventually battled back to within a point at 62-61 with 37 seconds left. The Jackets elected to play defense rather than foul and they induced a missed shot from Imani Wright but AJ Alix got the offensive rebound and GT was forced to foul Chatrice White. White hit both free throws to put FSU up 64-61. Tech advanced the ball and Francesca Pan had her game tying three point attempt rim out allowing the Noles to escape with a win.
Today was Senior Day for FSU. Shakayla Thomas, Ama Degbeon, Imani Wright, Chatrice White and AJ Alix played their last regular season game in Tallahassee. Of course the Noles remain on track to have NCAA Tournament games played in Tallahassee.
Shakayla Thomas led the Noles with 19 points and seven boards. Chatrice White stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points 13 boards and six blocks. Imani Wright had 12 points and Nicole Ekhomu chipped in with 10.
Give GT credit. The Noles could never get their offensive rhythm in this game and it was largely due to the shifting pressure and traps thrown at them by the Yellow Jackets. They forced the Noles into 19 turnovers while committing only eight themselves. The problem is that the Jackets only had 11 points off of all those turnovers.
GT also held FSU to only 4-13 from deep. Not only did the Jackets force FSU into a poor percentage (30.8%) but they held the Noles to only 13 shots. Tech’s defense made FSU uncomfortable all day.
With the win and NC State’s loss today to Notre Dame, FSU assumes sole possession of third place in the final ACC standings. Therefore the Seminoles will enjoy the double bye in the ACC Tournament.
There are still two games in progress at this writing but it looks as if FSU could meet the sixth seeded Miami Hurricanes for the third straight time in the ACC Tournament. The Canes have won the first two meetings. Whoever the Noles face the game is scheduled to be in the quarterfinals at 8pm on Friday, March 2nd in Greensboro, NC.