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Baseline Breakdown: FSU’s bench sparks comeback win over Clemson

Whew, that was needed.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Returning home for the first time since losing a heartbreaker to Duke, Florida State stopped the bleeding with a 77-68 come from behind victory over the Clemson Tigers. Trailing 41-35 at the break, the Seminoles’ bench came up huge in the second half.

Above the Rim:

  • The Seminoles finally knocked down open threes...and even some contested ones too. After a woeful start to ACC play from beyond the arc, FSU hit 10-22 from deep. David Nichols led the way with a scintillating 4-5 performance, but it was a total team effort, as seven different guys made a three. Forcing Clemson to respect their shooters finally allowed FSU some space in which to operate their offense, leading to a parade of dunks in the second half for Mfiondu Kabengele. On the opposite side, Clemson started hot as well with Aamir Simms making three of his first four long-range shots. However, he and the rest of the Tigers regressed to the mean in the second half and finished the game just 5-17 from outside. Check out the post-game section where Nichols talks about how critical it is for FSU to make—or even just take—open shots within the flow of the offense.
  • There were extended first half minutes for role players like Devin Vassell, Anthony Polite, and David Nichols. In fact, Vassell’s nine minutes in the opening stanza was more than he registered in any full game since ACC play began. After the game, Coach Hamilton said this was by design due to the team’s injuries and tired legs after the Boston College game, and credited the larger spread of minutes with keeping everyone fresh for the second half comeback. Additionally, it seemed like Vassell grew in confidence as the game wore on, getting more comfortable with the speed and physicality of ACC play.
  • The last 50 seconds of the first half were brutal. With Clemson leading 37-35, Trent Forrest had a fast break opportunity but was called for a charge with 50 seconds left. Then with 25 seconds left, Vassell was whistled for a shooting foul late in the shot clock. Both fouls appeared to be 50/50 calls. Elijah Thomas, a 64% free throw shooter, made both to put the Tigers up 39-35. With the opportunity to hold for the last shot, Vassell and Kabengele were not on the same page and FSU turned it over with seven seconds remaining. Finally, a Clemson floater rimmed out but was tapped in by Simms (and possibly an FSU player simultaneously) at the horn to give Clemson a 41-35 lead at the break. This would have been a perfect time for a mentally weak team to let the game get away. However, FSU came out of the half with renewed energy, determined to battle back. Kudos to the team for not throwing in the towel when it appeared to many—yours truly included—that the game may have slipped through their fingers.
  • FSU’s defense had their worst outing of the season on Sunday against BC, and the first half was a continuation of that. A combination of injuries, miscommunication, and slow rotations led to Clemson routinely getting open looks all over the court. However, the second half was a complete turnaround. RaiQuan Gray sparked the team with several huge plays off the bench and FSU started rotating on time to Clemson’s three point shooters, resulting in either contested shots or, even better, no shots at all. When the dust cleared, FSU held Clemson to 0.79 points per possession in the second half after having giving up 1.2 ppp in the first. If FSU had given up 0.79 for the game, it would have been the best defensive performance of the season.

Court Level:

  • Terance Mann, yet again, did a little bit of everything. The senior may not be a classic “take-over-a-game” guy, but his stat stuffing allows FSU to mix and match lineups and often results in the little plays being made that add up to victories. Take for example his offensive rebound tip-in after a PJ Savoy three spun around the rim twice and popped out. That play cut Clemson’s lead to two early in the second half, helping the comeback grow legs. For the game, Mann played a team high 32 minutes and finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 5 assists (led team), and zero turnovers.
  • Kabengele stayed out of foul trouble for the second straight game and for second straight game he dominated after halftime. With just five points at the break, the redshirt sophomore finished with a team leading 17 points on 10 shots to go along with 5 boards and only 2 fouls. I commented on this during the game, but his progress this year looks remarkably similar to a guy you might have heard of before—Al Thornton. Fi is a little bigger (both height and weight), while Al got off the ground a good bit faster, but both guys came to FSU as raw athletes who took a redshirt year. By Al’s sophomore year, the light was clearly beginning to come on and he had become an offensive rebounding machine who drew a ton of fouls and developed a sweet little turnaround, 16 footer. Sound familiar? His junior year, Thornton added a legitimate three point shot and became an unstoppable force. Will Kabengele keep developing along this track? Only time will tell, but the kid has a big time work ethic and desire to be great, so I wouldn’t doubt him.
  • Did we watch a coming out party for RaiQuan Gray? As mentioned above, the redshirt freshman ignited FSU’s run in the second half with impact plays on both ends of the court. His energy was infectious with both his teammates and the crowd. But even more than that, Gray just seems to really be gaining comfort and confidence in his role on the court. Now, obviously freshmen develop in spurts, so there will still be games where he struggles. But it’s great to see the potential of this young man starting to emerge.
  • As noted above, Nichols’ perimeter shot returned in a big way and quite frankly FSU doesn’t win without his contributions. Not just the points, his presence and the respect Clemson had for his shot opened up the floor for others to get to the basket. In addition, you can tell the senior is quite familiar with the importance of conference play and his ability to be steady while running the offense allowed the ailing Trent Forrest to take some much needed breathers. In fact, it was the first time since the win over Miami where Forrest played fewer than 30 minutes.


Clemson coach Brad Brownell on what went wrong in the second half:

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton on the win, his plan to find more minutes for his bench, and more:

David Nichols on the importance of taking open shots, their focus coming out of halftime, and more:

Mfiondu Kabengele on the team’s second half dominance and the importance of the victory over Clemson.

Kabengele media availability

Posted by on Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Looking Ahead:

Florida State receives some much needed time to rest and let their bodies recover before traveling down to Coral Gables for a rematch with the Miami Hurricanes. The Seminoles defeated the ‘Canes three weeks ago in Tallahassee, 68-62. Miami travels to Syracuse for a game against the Orange tomorrow.