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FSU’s defense leads the Seminoles to win over No. 17 Tennessee

Florida State headed to Emerald Coast Classic final after forcing 21 Volunteer turnovers.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Florida State Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State Seminoles traveled to Niceville on Friday for their 3rd game of the Emerald Coast Classic after blowing out Chattanooga and Chicago State in the first two rounds. FSU took on the 17th ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the semifinal of the early-season tournament as the ’Noles and Vols faced off for the first time since 1989. Florida State got a fully healthy roster for the first time in a few games, as M.J. Walker returned to the starting lineup for the first time in two weeks after missing three games.

FSU got off to a quick start behind its defense as the Vols turned the ball over six times within the first five minutes. The early turnovers led to 10 easy FSU points as the ‘Noles went into the first media timeout up 12-2. Freshman Balsa Koprivica’s steal and dunk highlighted the stretch as the Vols burned their first timeout:

FSU only scored 17 points in the next 15 minutes of the half as they struggled to get anything from deep and turned the ball over eight times. FSU went into the half up by just five points, but the lead should’ve been much larger. After scoring 10 points on the Vols’ first five turnovers, FSU scored just one point on their next eight.

Tennessee turned the ball over at a 36% rate and didn’t make a field goal for nearly eight minutes at one point. The Seminoles also outshot the Volunteers 48% to 31.8% in the half. But FSU made just one of five three pointers while missing three of their seven free throw attempts. Devin Vassell led the way in the first half with eight points and three boards. Trent Forrest was the only other ‘Nole to put up more than four but he had six turnovers in the half.

After missing their first five FG’s of the half, the Seminoles’ offense finally found some rhythm on a string of buckets. Malik Osborne got the Seminoles going with a wide open transition three. Koprivica added his second highlight play of the night with a monster put-back dunk on the very next possession. Patrick Williams found an open lane on a Forrest assist and hammered down a two-handed slam to put the ‘Noles up nine at the first media timeout of the half.

Williams provided the highlight of the game with a steal and a dunk to put the Seminoles up 10 with just over 11 minutes left to play. Williams swiped the ball right out of a Volunteer’s hand before putting Yves Pons on a poster. The steal and score was a part of a stretch of three straight possessions with a turnover for the Vols:

FSU was scoring 1.06 points per possession in the first nine minutes of the half after an and-1 from Forrest pushed the lead to 13:

A 3-minute FSU scoring drought let Tennessee back into the game as they cut the FSU lead to seven with just over eight minutes to play. The Seminoles responded behind multiple crucial defensive stops and the offensive play of Walker. In his first game back from injury, Walker drained a deep three to push the lead back to double digits with 6:38 to go.

Balsa came in the clutch with just over three minutes left as he drained both free throw’s on a 1-and-1 to push FSU’s lead to nine. Raiquan Gray came up with a huge defensive block as the defensive continued to stand tall down the stretch. Neither team made a FG from the 5:24 to the 1:23 mark as Jordan Bowden drained a three for UT to cut the lead to five with 1:22 remaining.

After the FSU lead was cut down to three, Osborne picked up a crucial offensive rebound before Forrest made one of two free throws at the line to push the lead back to two possessions. Another turnover for UT clinched the game for FSU as Vassell swiped an errant pass before knocking down two free throws to ice the game.

This was not a pretty basketball game to say the least. Neither team played close to their best but FSU pulled out a 60-57 win in the end. Neither team shot over 35% from the field, but FSU’s 23 points off of UT turnovers was the difference. Vassell led the way with 13 points, five rebounds, and three steals.

Florida State now has two wins against ranked SEC teams this year. FSU has now gone 154 minutes of basketball, or nearly four full games, without trailing for a single second. The Seminoles will play for the Emerald Coast Classic title tomorrow at 7:00 PM against the winner of the Purdue-VCU matchup.