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No. 5 Florida State out-guns Virginia Tech, as Vassell leads the way

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Florida State defeats Virginia Tech for the 7th straight time.

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

Coming off their first loss since early December, the Florida State men’s basketball team headed up to Blacksburg, Virginia to take on a frisky Virginia Tech Hokies team in Cassell Coliseum. Despite being short-handed with M.J. Walker out for the game, the ‘Noles were led by double digits for much of the second half and breezed to a 74-63 victory. The win moves FSU to 18-3 on the season.

The Seminoles started up 11-4 after nearly nine minutes of action that I couldn’t see due to the Marquette/Depaul game that wouldn’t end. The play-by-play tells me Devin Vassell and Wyatt Wilkes both made early threes. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section if you were one of the lucky few able to catch the first 25% of the game.

Vassell, clearly in a rhythm, made a smooth mid-range jumper just as soon as I started watching, moving the lead up to 13-4. However, like we have seen from this youthful team most of the season, FSU was not able to deliver the early knockout blow.

FSU and VT traded buckets for the next two possessions to make the score 18-9. Then the Hokies started to slowly chip away, trimming the lead to just one after a Hunter Cattoor three-pointer made it 20-19.

But FSU responded.

Wilkes and Vassell made back-to-back threes and the ‘Noles’ lead jumped right back to seven. All of this occurred with zero stoppages in play for almost six consecutive minutes of game-time, prompting the Hokies to finally burn a timeout. Over the final five minutes of first half action, Vassell continued to carry the Seminoles, making two more bombs from deep. Yet, VT was able to repeatedly beat FSU off the dribble and get into the paint—finishing either at the rim or kicking out for a perimeter shot.

When the horn sounded on one of the fastest, foul-free halves I’ve witnessed in several years, Florida State held a tenuous 34-29 lead, despite Vassell going 5-5 from beyond the arc.

The second half began like a continuation from the first half, with Vassell draining another three. Then a Raiquan Gray three (he’s been on a bit of a heater the last couple games) allowed FSU to open up a double-digit lead at 46-36, and the Seminoles kept the foot on the gas. After a Hokie basket, back to back lobs to Dominik Olejniczak made it 52-40 with just over 12 minutes remaining.

After another VT basket in the paint, Patrick Williams—shaking off obvious first half rust—drained a floater in the lane to push the lead back to 12. He then followed up with a tough finish through contact after an offensive rebound, plus the harm, and suddenly the Seminoles led by 15.

However, Virginia Tech, playing in front of a packed house, was not going to go quietly into the night. They got to the line (a rarity in this game) two straight possessions to cut the lead to 12. Then a three-ball brought them within nine at 60-51 with 7:30 to go. After the media timeout, Dom got the ball down low but hesitated to go up strong, leading to a strip and fast break dunk for the Hokies.

Suddenly the Seminole lead was down to seven. Unlike the Virginia game, however, the ‘Noles didn’t wilt under pressure.

Anthony Polite threw down a dunk off a pretty dish from Trent Forrest to push the lead back to nine, then made 1 of 2 free throws the next trip down to bring it back out to double-digits. From there, FSU’s defense made enough plays down the stretch and Devin Vassell rained in his seventh three of the game to help the Seminoles finish off the win.

Vassell, who didn’t miss from deep, set a career high with 27 points (on just 10 shots) just a couple weeks after he set his previous best mark against Miami. No other Seminole finished in double digits, but a balanced attack saw five other guys scored at least 7 points, including Williams in his first game back in action after missing the last two with a toe injury. Forrest showcased his all-around ability by leading the team in rebounds (9) and assists (5).

Virginia Tech came into the game ranked 20th in the country in three-point percentage, but finished well below their average, making just 7 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc. Heralded redshirt-freshman Landers Nolley II was an ineffective 5-16 from the field, including 2-8 from three.

From here, the Seminoles come home to play the North Carolina Tar Heels on Monday night at the Tucker Center. Both teams will be coming off a short turnaround, so you have to hope Walker can come back from whatever kept him out of today’s contest.