Sporting a 20-game home winning streak, the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles men’s basketball team put on a dominant display in the second half to defeat the visitors from Pittsburgh 82-67. With the win, FSU improves to 22-4 and moves into a tie with Louisville for second in the ACC at 12-3.
Way back on Wednesday, November 6th, 2019, the ‘Noles traveled to the Oakland Zoo, opening the season with a 63-61 loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers. One would think this would’ve provided extra focus and motivation for the players in garnet and gold. However, at least for the starting five, that seemed to be far from the case.
About the only thing the starting five did well early was control the opening tip. Outside of that, the collection of Devin Vassell, Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker (opening the game with a full facial mask that looked terribly uncomfortable), RaiQuan Gray, and Malik Osborne combined for a woeful start. Forrest was okay, but the other four were bad. No spacing or movement on offense. Sloppy passes, leading to live ball turnovers. Awful transition defense. Lazy rebounding and non-existent boxing out. Add it all up, and the underdogs led 12-5 after six minutes.
Of course, if there’s been one constant during Leonard Hamilton’s tenure, it’s the impressive depth that always seems to answer the bell.
After Dominik Olejniczak stopped the bleeding with a bucket to make it 12-7, a full scale line-change resulted in a noticeable jump in energy and focus. On top of that, Coach Ham switched to a zone—a rare move for a Hamilton-coached team—and it seemed to confuse the Panthers.
The move to the bench (and zone) resulted in a 17-2 run for the Seminoles, culminating with a Wyatt Wilkes three-ball to make the score 24-17. Heck, Ham went so deep into his bench, fans in the stands were putting up shot attempts (you had to be watching to understand this joke). During this stretch, Balsa Koprivica made baskets on three consecutive Seminole possessions, while Patrick Williams also sank three shots.
Gray made a layup off a big-to-big pass from Koprivica to bring the score to 26-19. However, with the bench guys back on the pine, the energy dipped, once again. Defensive breakdowns, including an inability to defend or rebound without fouling allowed Pitt to regain the lead at 29-28.
But back came the Seminoles’ depth.
Olejniczak threw down a rim-rocking dunk, and Anthony Polite swished a three, giving FSU a quick 5-0 burst, putting the Seminoles back in front 32-29 with less than two minutes remaining in the half. The teams traded scores before Williams grabbed an offensive rebound put-back and-1 with :06 left, allowing the ’Noles to take a 38-33 lead. Olejniczak, flashing some rim-protecting skills, made sure it stayed that way with a crowd pleasing block at the horn on a Xavier Johnson dunk attempt.
The second half opened with two noticeable adjustments to the starting 5—Williams and Olejniczak replaced Osborne and Gray in the initial lineup. However, Forrest continued his sloppy play on the evening with a careless turnover, and it looked like FSU was going to allow Pitt to cut into the lead.
Fortunately, an offensive rebound by Olejniczak led to a wide open three for Forrest—which he burried—and the lead was eight. Then, Williams really got the crowd excited when he soared in for a put-back jam, as the lead reached double digits for the first time.
Following a flagrant-1 foul on Pitt (and two Walker free throws), FSU appeared in position to potentially blow open the game. But the Panthers were able to hang around thanks to (you guessed it) sloppy play and poor shooting from Seminoles’ starters.
Finally, Gray utilized his quick hands to grab a steal and push ahead to Polite for a three-ball, and the lead was back to 10. A few possessions later, Polite grabbed a long defensive rebound and ignited another fast break, this time culminating in an Osborne tip-in after not one, but two FSU offensive boards. With the lead suddenly at 12, Jeff Capel took a timeout hoping to stop the bleeding. His hopes were not fulfilled.
A whirling-dervish bank-shot in transition for Osborne pushed the lead to 14 and his subsequent free throw made it 15. A three by Vassell—his first points since the Duke game—made it 62-44 and from there it was essentially over.
Williams showed (once again) that he’s just a better athlete than everyone else, getting off the floor with cat-like quickness for several dunks and offensive put-backs. The Florida State defense also clamped down, forcing the Panthers into multiple shot-clock violations, blocking an array of shots, and turning live-ball turnovers into easy buckets.
The lead reached 22 following a bomb from Walker, who finished the game playing sans mask. About the only thing FSU did poorly in the second half was send the visitors to the free throw line too frequently, something that’s become a trend this year and especially against the Panthers. Pitt shooting 14 more free throws than FSU (26-12) is only thing that prevented this from being a 30-point demolition:
Williams led FSU in scoring for the second consecutive game, dropping 16 points in just 22 minutes, while adding five rebounds (four offensive), and a block. Forrest and Polite were the other two ‘Noles who reached double-figures, with 10 apiece. All 12 scholarship players scored for Florida State (53 bench points).
Florida State will now travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for a Saturday contest against a desperate North Carolina State Wolfpack squad.