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No. 18 Florida State pulls away for a hard-earned victory over Notre Dame

It wasn’t pretty, but the Seminoles got the job done.

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

Just 48 hours after suffering their first loss since mid-January, the Florida State Seminoles returned home to face a gritty Notre Dame Fighting Irish team besieged by injuries. It wasn’t the blowout some expected, but a coming out party by Devin Vassell and good free throw shooting down the stretch gave FSU a 68-61 victory. The Seminoles are now 22-6 on the season.

Sloppy passing by FSU early on led to easy transition buckets for Notre Dame—at the rim and from the perimeter (contrary to popular myth, the Seminoles are usually very good at preventing live-ball turnovers). However, even when the Irish were forced to operate out of the half-court set, Florida State’s defense was often late on rotations, or defenders closed out shooters wildly, giving up easy penetration and ball reversals. This led to the Seminoles trailing 19-14 midway through the half.

Following the under-eight media timeout, the ’Noles began to tighten up on defense. But while the shots became more contested, the results were much the same—Notre Dame raining threes. The Irish came into the game ranked 304th in three-point shooting at 31.5%. You’d have never known it watching this first half, though, as the Irish started 6-12 from deep in the first 16 minutes.

With a little more than six minutes left in the half, Notre Dame opened up a 10 point lead. Coach Hamilton inserted Vassell, and the freshman responded, drilling two deep threes sandwiched around a Trent Forrest floater to cut the ND lead to two. Moments after Vassell’s second three, M.J. Walker jumped a pass at mid-court and flushed it with authority, tying the game.

Much to Seminole fans’ dismay, the second half started very similarly to the first half: FSU committing live ball turnovers, and Notre Dame making threes. By the under 16 timeout, Notre Dame was 8-15 from three on the game and had opened up a 45-37 lead.

From there, the teams traded buckets for a bit, with FSU slowly chipping away at the lead. But the ’Noles just couldn’t find a way to grab the lead.

Vassell cut the lead to one with a monster offensive rebound put-back dunk. On the following possession, the true freshman swished a deep three to finally give the Seminoles a 57-55 lead.

With Florida State clinging to a two point lead, Trent Forrest forced a 10 second violation to give the ’Noles the ball out of the under-4 media TO. Mfiondu Kabengele made one of two free throws to increase the lead to three. The Seminoles then forced a shot clock violation. After an extended review didn’t correct either of the two mistakes on the call, Terance Mann threw down a monstrous one-handed put-back slam to give FSU a five point lead:

But the Irish wouldn’t give up. John Mooney got to the rim on back-to-back possessions cutting the lead to two. Forrest stepped to the line and calmly drained two straight free throws, putting FSU back up four. The next trip down, Forrest made one of two, and the lead grew to five. Two more free throws by David Nichols resulted in the final margin.

Vassell led FSU with 13 points on 5-6 shooting and added a team-high seven rebounds to boot. Christ Koumadje (12) and Kabengele (10) joined the freshman in double figures, as it was a balanced night across the board with six guys scoring at least eight.

With the win, Florida State will finish with double-digit ACC wins for the sixth time in the last 11 seasons.