The No. 8 Florida State Seminoles traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on an NC State Wolfpack squad that obliterated the Duke Blue Devils earlier this week. Despite trailing at half, Florida State came out swinging in the second stanza and led most of the final 20 minutes on their way to a 67-61 spread-covering victory. The win brings FSU to 23-4 on the season and keeps alive Seminole hopes for the 1-seed in next month’s ACC Tournament.
The game started on a positive note for the ’Noles controlling the offensive glass early. Devin Vassell, who struggled shooting the ball his last couple outings, opened up with an early three. This was followed by RaiQuan Gray going coast-to-coast for a nifty lay-in, ensuring that FSU avoided the disastrous start that befell the Blue Devils in PNC Arena Wednesday.
Florida State led 9-6 after five minutes, but then a familiar trend reared its ugly head. Foul trouble. M.J. Walker picked up his second at the 13:38 mark. A couple minutes later, Trent Forrest followed suit. In fact, in the first seven minutes, FSU had been whistled for seven fouls compared to none on the Tobacco Road Wolfpack.
Slowly but surely, NCSU caught and then passed FSU on the scoreboard. With 11 minutes to go in the half, State led 15-11. Anthony Polite brought FSU within one on a corner three after a nice look from Dominik Olejniczak. But some more free throws by NC State and a second foul on Rayquan Evans left FSU down 20-16 with no true ball-handlers left on the court.
Wyatt Wilkes drained a three and brought FSU within two, at 22-20. However, a horrendous pass by Wilkes on the next possession led to an easy NCSU layup. Then a Vassell open court turnover led to another easy basket. The Wolfpack lead was suddenly 27-20. This is what can happen when coaches refuse to play guys with two fouls in the first half (and all your ball-handlers are sitting on the bench).
Patrick Williams stopped the bleeding for the Seminoles with an acrobatic tip-in, which was followed by a steal and a three-point play by Vassell to cut the deficit to 27-25. Williams then tied the game with an NBA-caliber baseline drive.
But basketball is a game of runs and some relentless offensive rebounding plus a C.J. Bryce three resulted in a 5-0 Wolfpack burst and a 32-27 halftime lead for the home team.
The Seminoles started the second half with Forrest and Walker back on the court and their impact was felt immediately. Walker exploded for 10 points in the opening five minutes, while Forrest controlled the tempo, scored a bucket, and assisted on two more during that time frame. All of a sudden, FSU opened up a 41-37 lead (perhaps this would have been double-digits had the dynamic duo played more in the first half...).
Predictably, the game of runs shifted back to the home team. The Wolfpack used a 4-0 spurt to tie it up at 41, but the ‘Noles countered with a 8-2 run of their own and opened up a 49-43 lead. And for a change of pace, it was the Seminoles’ turn to be the beneficiary of the whistle, drawing six fouls in the first nine minutes compared to none by NCSU.
That changed when Vassell disrupted the landing space of Braxton Beverly on a made three, but Beverly missed the free throw, and the FSU lead remained three.
NC State cut the lead to 50-48 on an athletic finish at the basket by Markell Johnson, but Vassell buried a three-ball corner pocket with a hand in his face to push the lead right back to five. On the next Wolfpack possession, head coach Kevin Keatts was assessed a technical foul for being three feet onto the court. Williams made the pair of free throws, putting the ’Noles up 55-48.
Forrest executed a pretty stop-and-pop in the lane that gave FSU a nine point lead and an exasperated Keatts called timeout. But the stoppage in play didn’t interrupt FSU’s execution. Vassell grabbed yet another offensive rebound for the Seminoles, and Osborne capitalized with an and-one bucket to push the lead to double-digits.
State brought it back into single-digits with a Jericole Hellems layup, but Williams brought it right back to 10 on an offensive rebound tip-in. From there, all FSU needed to do was grab rebounds and make free throws. And while Walker and Malik Osborne combined to miss six shots from the charity stripe down the stretch, the ‘Noles made enough to secure the victory.
The Seminoles grabbed nearly 50% of their offensive rebounds in the game, and though they made just 62% of their free throws, the ‘Noles got to the line 29 times compared to just 13 for the Wolfpack.
Four FSU players finished in double-figures, with Walker and Williams leading the way with 12 each. Osborne, who could’ve joined them in double-digits with just one made free throw in the final two minutes, finished with 9 points and 12 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive glass.
Florida State now comes home to the Tucker Center for a quick turnaround showdown against the Louisville Cardinals on Monday night. The winner of the likely top 10 matchup will have the tiebreak should there be a three-way tie atop the ACC standings.