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Basketball Breakdown: Seminoles go cold, lose double-digit halftime lead

At 1-4 in ACC play, is FSU in must-win territory?

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State appeared to be righting its ship, cruising along late in the first half up 40-25. In fact, the Seminoles had roughly a 93% win probability with just a few minutes before the break. But a woeful second half of shooting, combined with a great performance by Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, resulted in FSU losing for the third straight game, 87-82.

Above the Rim:

  • FSU is hurting. Yes, the win/loss column is taking a hit, but I literally mean FSU is hurting. Phil Cofer missed the game, apparently aggravating his foot injury that forced him to miss the first two months of the season. Trent Forrest is playing on one foot and looks like a shell of his typically explosive self. Terance Mann also has a bum wheel. M.J. Walker still is recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss two games. Mfiondu Kabengele is battling a hand/wrist injury. These injuries take away the one advantage the Seminoles have on most teams—depth. Hard to push tempo and play pressure defense when half your roster is hobbled. Heck, at this point it’s hard for Forrest to just keep his man in front of him.
  • As bad as the injuries have been, Florida State still had a comfortable lead with 23 minutes to play. Then their shots stopped falling. The lack of health has reduced FSU’s margin of error to near zero in most ACC games—a league where the ‘Noles opponent has the single best player on the court in the large majority of games. Yet, it’s the abysmal perimeter shooting to start ACC play that has been the straw to break the camel’s back. FSU shot 33% or better from three in 8 of their 13 non-conference games. The men in garnet and gold have yet to hit that mark in their 1-4 start to league play. Some of this poor shooting is no doubt due to the aforementioned injuries. Regardless, the ‘Noles simply do not have elite shot creators on the roster this season, meaning if the perimeter shots aren’t falling teams can simply sag off and dare FSU to prove them wrong. It sounds like a cop out, trust me I understand. But the reality is, Florida State’s offense hums pretty well when guys are knocking down open shots...and looks pretty listless when they aren’t.
  • Coming into the game, the scouting report said to let Bowman get his and keep everyone else from going off. Mission accomplished in the first half. However, Jordan Chatman was allowed to find a rhythm early in the second half with a couple of slow rotations and mis-communication leading to uncontested corner threes and from there the fire was lit. The defensive rotations re-sharpened later in the second half, but it was too late—the streaky shooter was white-hot.
  • How big was perimeter shooting in this game? FSU had a better offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, two-point percentage, turnover percentage, block percentage, and free throw percentage. But BC, the 265th best 3-point shooting team in the country, outscored FSU by 15 from deep and that ultimately proved insurmountable.

Court Level:

  • Kabengele continues to look better by the week. The multi-faceted big man kept FSU in the game for a large stretch of the second half, showing off a deadly 16 footer. He finished with a career high 26 points, 9 rebounds, only 1 turnover, and perhaps most importantly, just 3 fouls.
  • Mann was his typical stat-stuffing self, going for 14 points, 8 boards, 2 assists, and a steal. He doesn’t have the skillset to “take over games” the way someone like Ky Bowman does, but the steady senior is doing his part despite playing through pain.
  • After turning the ball over at an alarming rate earlier in the season, Forrest has now committed two or fewer turnovers in six consecutive games. Pretty good for a guy who has the ball in his hands nearly every possession. On top of that, the junior even made a three against BC, just his 4th of the season and 8th of his career. However, his foot injury is clearly hobbling him and limiting his ability to be an elite defender and penetrator. To that latter point, Forrest attempted zero free throws for just the second time in the last 33 games.
  • Walker went 2-7 from three, which may not sound great but it represented a big step in the right direction. The sophomore had been mired in a terrible slump since hurting his knee. In fact, prior to the BC game, Walker had made just two shots from beyond the arc since December 8th. Hopefully this is the start of a return to form from outside.
  • Cofer missing the game was massive. He’s one of FSU’s best perimeter shooters (43% on the season) and his ability to defend multiple positions on defense would have surely helped prevent Chatman from catching fire in the second half. No word on how long he’ll be out this time, but if it’s any significant length of time then has some real issues ahead.

Looking Ahead:

In the strictest sense of the phrase, no game is “must-win” until March. Basketball is a sport of runs, and that’s true within games and seasons. That said, FSU’s season does feel at a bit of a crossroads. A stellar OOC performance has put the Seminoles in a position where even an 8-10 ACC record likely earns them an NCAAT bid. But a wave of injuries has backed Florida State into a corner. The last two-thirds of the schedule doesn’t feature UVA or Duke, so wins are there to be had. But most people would have assumed at least one victory out of the previous two games against Pitt and Boston College.

Holding serve at home is now a must, but the ACC schedule makers did FSU no favors. For the second week in a row the Seminoles are assigned two games in three days, only this time FSU’s opponent—Clemson—hasn’t played in nearly a week. That’s just flat out bush league for a group of conference administrators that claims to care about the well-being of amateur athletes.

I’ll dive into this deeper on upcoming “NCAA Tourney Watches,” but at this point FSU has two priorities: 1) find a way to win at least 8 ACC games; 2) be as healthy as can be come the second week of March. The second phase of the conference slate tips off Tuesday the 22nd, at 7pm from the Tuck.

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