It’s often said (though less often true) that Florida State struggles against the zone. That was not the case tonight. FSU turned a three-game ACC win-streak into four with a road demolition of Syracuse, 80-62.
There was a heat wave in Syracuse with temperatures topping 60 degrees this week, and FSU seemed right at home, as Seminole shooters came out scorching from beyond the arc. M.J. Walker got things started with two quick threes, but for the first 10 minutes of the game shots were pouring in from seemingly everyone wearing a ’Nole uniform. In fact, FSU shooters made 7 of their first 9 three-point attempts.
Combine that with some quick hands on defense and some missed open shots by Syracuse, and Florida State stormed out to a 36-14 lead midway through the first half.
But basketball is a game of runs, and the Orange sure had one in them.
Tyus Battle, as pure a scorer as there is in college basketball, started doing what he was born to do. The lead quickly evaporated from 22 to 13. Florida State’s shooting touch disappeared at the other end, and when the Seminoles got chances to run off of turnovers, sloppy passing led to empty possessions. With the lead cut all the way to eight, Terance Mann finally broke the drought with a deep three, but Battle came back and answered with one of his own. Mann hit a running bucket with 0.1 seconds left, but it was waived off due to a dubious charge. In all, it was a 17-4 run by the Orange, so FSU went to the locker room up just eight, 39-31.
FSU pushed it to nine early in the second half, but shots continued to clank and fouls started to mount. With 11:55 to go, the Seminoles clung to a precarious 51-49 lead.
The teams traded blows for a couple minutes, leading to a Leonard Hamilton timeout with FSU up 55-52. Out of the huddle the ’Noles came out swinging and landed a flurry of punches. Mfiondu Kabengele had an offensive rebound put-back. Trent Forrest grabbed a steal and passed ahead to a streaking Mann for the dunk. Then Kabengele showed off NBA range on a made three. Just like that, the lead was back to 10 and Syracuse was forced to call its last timeout with almost 8 minutes remaining.
Jim Boeheim’s corner pep-talk didn’t have its desired effect. Kabengele continued to put on a show, draining another three, and FSU’s defense stiffened. By the 5:00 mark, FSU’s lead had ballooned to 69-54. But the Seminoles, like most of the season, wouldn’t stop fouling, allowing Syracuse to hang around. With a little more than 4 minutes to play, an Orange three-ball cut the lead to 71-60, igniting the Carrier Dome crowd.
Mann quickly silenced them.
The senior from Lowell, Massachusetts completed a gutsy and-one to bring the lead right back to 14, before connecting again to push it to 16. From there, the only thing in doubt was the final margin. Mann led FSU with a season-high 22 points (on just 9 shots) and 9 rebounds. Kabengele chipped in with 18 (4-4 from 3) and 8 off the bench, while Forrest sizzled with a season-best 10 assists against just 2 turnovers.
With the win, the Seminoles improve to 17-5 overall and completed their first half of the ACC schedule at 5-4. FSU takes the next few days off before returning to action at home against a top 20 Louisville Cardinals team that just scored a road victory of their own over Virginia Tech.