In a rare game that was both back and forth and also one in which FSU never trailed, the Seminoles swatted away enough shots at the rim and made enough free throws down the stretch to emerge with a 78-73 win over NC State.
Above the Rim:
- Too much dribbling early in the game resulted in numerous turnovers against NC State’s pressure defense. In the second half the Seminoles started doing a better job of not bouncing the air out of the basketball and it resulted in much better overall offensive execution and significantly cut down their turnover rate.
- FSU was fantastic on defense once again, especially in the first half. The ‘Noles did a good job of getting back in transition after their numerous early turnovers and also protecting the rim in the half court set against a smaller NCSU team. Even in the second half when the Wolfpack shot 55%, it wasn’t really bad defense as much as it was tip your cap perimeter shooting from NC State. Last year, FSU’s defense didn’t really start to play at a high level until their Elite 8 tournament run. This year, the defense has been a staple all season long, currently ranking in the top 15 in the country.
- Turnovers and free throws allowed NC State to stay in the game despite shooting an anemic 26.7% in the first half. Jonathan noted in the game preview that NC State is an elite team at forcing their opponents into turnovers and that was on full display in the first half. Some were the always deadly live-ball steals, but many were simply FSU ball handlers getting sped up and trying to do things they aren’t capable or comfortable doing, leading to numerous throw aways. On the free throws, NCSU got to the line 15 times in the first half. The combination of lost possessions on FSU’s end and a terrific FT rate by the Wolfpack prevented this from being a double-digit lead at halftime. However, credit the FSU coaching staff for making some nice halftime adjustments allowing the Seminoles to start beating NC State’s press and making them pay at the rim.
- FSU led 60-53 with 9:03 left and it looked like the ‘Noles were starting to wrestle control of the game away from the ‘Pack. NC State had some mounting foul trouble, FSU appeared to have figured out a way to make State pay for their press, and the Seminole defense was making life miserable at the rim. But the three point shot (which really needs to be extended out at least a foot) is college basketball’s great equalizer. Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly hit back to back threes—NC State’s 3rd and 4th of the half—and suddenly the game was tied at 63. FSU battled back, eliminating their turnovers and making free throws to again extend a lead out to 72-67 with 3:20 to play, and again Johnson hit a three to trim it to 72-70. FSU hit their free throws to go up 76-70 with less than a minute left, and yet again Johnson nailed a three to bring the Wolfpack back within three. All of this resulted in Leonard Hamilton electing to foul with Florida State up three and less than 10 seconds remaining. It proved to be the right move. Braxton Beverly missed the front end of a one and one, Mfiondu Kabengele calmly gathered the rebound and made two free throws, and FSU walked away victorious. There is ongoing discussion about whether or not to foul when up three late in the game. Clemson faced this exact scenario up in Raleigh earlier this season, but fouled too soon. This allowed NC State to make their free throws, foul Clemson—which then missed—and then still have enough time to get the ball across half court and sink a game-winning three. FSU looked calm and collected in their execution of their late game strategy and that indicates a well prepared team.
- It’s awesome that FSU is able to figure out ways to win games against top 40 opponents when their perimeter shooting is ice cold. Not every team can do this. But if FSU wants to advance deep into March there will need to be at least a couple games where the Seminoles hit their outside shots. Florida State was just 3-13 from three, including 0-4 in the second half, while NC State double up FSU’s full game production just in the second half, making 9-19 in the game.
- So how did FSU still emerge victorious? By doing what Michael Rogner always talks about; getting to the free throw line. Florida State attempted only two fewer free throws in the second half than NCSU attempted in the game. The Seminoles were the more aggressive offensive team and it paid off big time.
- M.J. Walker sank four consecutive free throws mid-way through the first half that seemed to give him some confidence. He followed those up by knocking down a three and a couple nice finishes at the rim. NCSU’s press bothered him in the first half and it was clear the Wolfpack had done their homework on his ball handling. However, FSU adjusted in the second half allowing Walker to stay on the court late in the game—and it’s always nice to have the ACC’s best free throw shooter in league play (33-38) on the floor during a tight game. True to form, Walker sank two more free throws to extend FSU’s lead to four points with 2:36 to play.
- David Nichols had an inauspicious start, missing 3 free throws late in first half that prevented FSU from pushing the margin out close to double digits. But the senior more than atoned for himself in the second half with his defense, ball handling, and several creative finishes at the rim. Florida State doesn’t win without Nichols’ efforts.
- Terance Mann played another fantastic all-around game. What more can you really say about this guy? He set up teammates (one on a fabulous no-look bounce pass), attacked the rim, attacked the rim, grabbed several offensive rebounds and kept a couple others alive with tip-outs, drained a three, defended multiple positions, and also proved to be a capable ball handler against NC State’s pressure defense. Coach Hamilton talked about how much Mann has meant to the program over the last few years and he is absolutely spot-on. It’s no coincidence FSU will be making their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance with Mann starting nearly every game during that time.
- Phil Cofer broke out of a shooting slump right off the bat. After scoring just two points in the previous two games combined, the senior scored FSU’s first four against NC State, both on mid-range jumpers. As FSU looks to make another deep March run, it’s critical that Cofer starts to find some rhythm and consistency with his shot. Today was a good step in that direction.
- Christ Koumadje’s defense was outstanding.
- Trent Forrest is a perfect embodiment of this team’s character. The junior from Chipley is clearly playing through pain that limits his explosiveness, and yet every game he finds a way to make winning plays. Coach Hamilton described his tenacity better than I could in the post-game, give it a listen.
Coach Hamilton offers a wide range of insights on his team’s mid-game adjustments, pulling out a close win, the unconquered spirit of Trent Forrest, and more.
Kevin Keatts on some questionable calls and the challenges FSU presents.
Trent Forrest on how he’s managing his pain, the upcoming matchup with Virginia Tech, and more.
Mfiondu Kabengele always gives thoughtful answers, but his comment about Senior Day is...well just give it a listen. What an awesome guy.
M.J. Walker on what Trent Forrest means to his team, how FSU kept fending off N.C. State’s comeback efforts, and what it means to him to help get a win for his teammates on Senior Day.