No. 8 Florida State (8-0) defeated No. 19 Michigan State (6-2) by a 78-68 score in the ACC/Big10 Challenge in Tallahassee.
Florida State started the game off quickly with a 5-0 run that was sparked by a Kiah Gillespie three ball. Shay Colley answered with a triple for the Spartans. From there the two teams mostly traded baskets until FSU made a move with about four minutes left in the quarter. Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu made consecutive threes and after a London Clarkson free throw the Seminoles were up 17-8. However, MSU answered with six quick points to pull to within three at 17-14. The Noles scored four of the last six points of the quarter to end the first period with a 21-16 advantage.
The Spartans started the second period on an 8-2 run to take their first lead of the game at 24-23. After a River Baldwin layup, MSU went on another run. Taryn McCutcheon used a three ball to spark an 11-0 run that put the Spartans up 35-25. FSU battled back to score the last five points of the quarter but the Seminoles still found themselves trailing 35-30 at halftime.
In the third quarter the two teams went back and forth trading baskets until about two minutes left in the quarter. FSU scored seven of the last ten points to cut MSU’s lead to 52-49 going into the fourth quarter.
The two teams started the quarter trading baskets. However, Florida State made a move with about five minutes left in the quarter. The Noles went on a 10-2 run to take a 64-60 lead with 1:49 left to play. From there the Seminoles closed the game out by excelling from the charity stripe. FSU made their last 18 straight free throws to ice the game. The Seminoles were 19-21 from the line in the fourth quarter. That hot shooting allowed the Noles to walk away with a hard earned 78-68 victory.
FSU was led by Kiah Gillespie who had another double-double (24pts, 12reb) to pace the Seminoles. Nicki Ekhomu had 15 points and five assists while fellow senior Nausia Woolfolk chipped in with an 11 point, 11 rebound double-double. Valencia Myers was the other Nole in double figures with 12 points.
Overall Florida State was 30-36 (83%) from the free throw line.
There is an old saying in boxing that styles make fights. Well this game was a clash of styles. Florida State enjoyed an advantage in the post and in transition. The Spartans countered by hitting timely threes and forcing turnovers with their pressure defense.
MSU took the lead by holding the Noles to only nine second quarter points. They did so by pressuring FSU’s back court and forcing turnovers. Florida State had eight of their 20 turnovers in the second quarter. The Spartans were also hot from three in this stretch. MSU had five of their 11 threes in the second quarter.
FSU took control of the game in the fourth with the great free throw shooting but they were also the beneficiary of cold shooting by MSU. The Spartans were a frigid 1-11 from deep in the fourth quarter.
The story of the game was that Michigan State simply couldn’t generate enough offense if they weren’t hitting threes or turning the Noles over. However, this game would have been a nail biter if the Seminoles weren’t so proficient from the free throw line in the closing minutes. Hitting 18 straight free throws is unreal.
The Big Three are rarely leaving the court. In the last three games Gillespie has played a total of 113 minutes. Ekhomu has played 110 minutes while Woolfolk has played 105 out of 120 available minutes. Obviously FSU wants these players on the court as much as possible but coach Sue Semrau is going to have to find a way to rest them. The ACC will be tough and it is a lot to ask them to play such grinding minutes for a full season.
Florida State is 8-0 and flying high right now. This was a quality win against a ranked team. However, it was a game that an elite (or near elite) team needs to win. By winning it the Noles are proving that they may be such a team.