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No. 9 FSU basketball outlasts Winthrop, moves to 12-1 before ACC play

The Seminoles ring in the New Year with another home victory.

NCAA Basketball: Winthrop at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Senior Phil Cofer, coming back from an injured foot, got his first start of the season and the Seminoles treated the home crowd to a hard-fought 87-76 victory over a solid Winthrop Eagles squad.

Winthrop opened the game with an extremely small lineup, without a single guy over 6’5. Combine this with a sluggish Seminoles defense, and the Eagles repeatedly torched FSU off the dribble over the first 12 minutes of the game. Even defensive ace Trent Forrest became a surprise victim on multiple occasions.

Fortunately, Cofer showed considerably less rust than his first two appearances this season and scored FSU’s first 12 points from an array of spots on the court. Four minutes into the game, Cofer led the Eagles 12-9.

With FSU and Winthrop at their best when running, the fast paced action continued. The Seminoles led 30-27 at the eight minute mark and both offenses were getting pretty much any look they wanted.

Finally, the Noles’ defense began asserting itself some and FSU opened up a comfortable lead over the last third of the first half. Not coincidentally, this uptick in execution came not too long after Coach Hamilton made a full line change with his starting five. By halftime, Winthrop’s scoring was down under 1 point per possession, while FSU—fueled by three point shooting and getting to the free throw line—was up to 1.33 ppp. This resulted in a 52-36 Seminole lead at the break.

However, the Eagles wouldn’t go away. Despite leading scorer, Nych Smith, being out for the entire game with an ankle injury, Winthrop showcased resilience and a tremendous ability to finish through contact at the rim. At the same time, FSU went cold from the field and a 14 point lead at the under 16 minute media timeout evaporated to just two points, 63-61, at the under 12 timeout.

With M.J. Walker missing the game due to an injury, Hamilton went to his bench and decided to counter Winthrop’s tiny lineup with about as small as FSU can go: David Nichols, Forrest, Anthony Polite, Terance Mann, and Cofer. The shrewd coaching move paid immediate dividends, as Polite and Nichols extended the defensive pressure out to half-court and generated three quick steals, bumping FSU’s lead back up to 71-63 in less than two minutes.

Still, Winthrop simply would not back down. FSU’s three point shooting went ice cold in the second half, while the Eagles warmed up considerably. With five minutes left in the game, FSU clung to a 75-72 lead.

Then—as leaders do—Forrest, Mann, and Mfiondu Kabengele took over the game. Kabengele protected the rim with ferocity, leading to several FSU buckets on the other end. Forrest started attacking and finishing at the rim. And Mann grabbed multiple offensive rebounds and, as he does best, turned them into dunks. When all was said and done, Mann and Forrest scored 10 of FSU’s final 12 points and the Seminoles emerged victorious once again.

Mann led FSU with 22 points on 10-11 shooting from the field, while adding 7 rebounds 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Nichols, Kabengele, and Cofer also finished in double figures.

Florida State now embarks on ACC play, with a trip to No. 4 Virginia this Saturday.