Electric crowd? Check. Bill Murray in the house? Check. A couple dozen NBA scouts and two big time basketball teams? Check and check. In what might very well be the best half of basketball FSU has played in two years, the Seminoles rallied from a double-digit deficit to win going away, 82-67. The win gives Florida State a season sweep over UL and continues Leonard Hamilton’s mastery over Chris Mack coached teams.
The game opened with both teams sort of feeling each other out, two prize fighters exchanging jabs and subtle combos. One thing that became apparent from the opening possession, Louisville came out determined to make someone other than Devin Vassell beat them. Cardinals’ defenders hounded the sophomore on the perimeter and he struggled to find any open looks.
After an early 4-4 tie, UL opened up an 8-4 lead thanks to several easy baskets at the rim. For FSU, RaiQuan Gray was the surprise weapon to start, as he was able to repeatedly beat his man off the dribble. The rest of the Florida State starters seemed to settle for jumpers and contested looks.
A pair of Jordan Nwora free throws made it 11-6 Louisville, before Anthony Polite finally broke the perimeter shooting drought for the ‘Noles with a corner three off a nice drive-and-kick from Trent Forrest.
A Dominik Olejniczak layup brought FSU within three at 14-11, but Ryan McMahon buried a curl-catch-and-shoot three to open up a 17-11 lead for the Cards. FSU came back with four straight to make it 17-15, but a questionable charge on a Trent Forrest fast-break (so much for the NCAA’s emphasis on flops...) gave UL the ball back. McMahon, who had drawn the charge, came down and swished an uncontested 30—footer to give Louisville a critical five point swing.
The “second quarter” of the game witnessed the teams settle into a nice rhythm, trading baskets and defensive plays. This was high level basketball.
M.J. Walker nailed a step-back three to bring FSU within three, at 28-25. Nwora hit a beautiful, one-dribble pull-up on the other end, but Walker came right back with a baseline fade-away, bringing the score to 32-27 at the under 4 media timeout
Coming out of the timeout, UL took it up another level. The third McMahon bomb of the half made it 35-27 and after another FSU turnover a Louisville layup made it a 10-point deficit for the Seminoles. Patrick Williams cut it to eight with a sweet jumper off the dribble, but Nowra stretched it all the way to 11 with a silky-smooth step-back three. Polite hit his second corner three of the half and Florida State went into its own locker room down eight:
No. 6 #FSU trailing No. 11 #Louisville 40-32 at half.— Tomahawk Nation (@Tomahawknation) February 25, 2020
Cards w/ 12 PTS off 9 Florida St. TO's.
Ryan McMahon+Jordan Nwora have combined for 20 PTS, while Devin Vassell+Trent Forrest have combined for just 4.#LOU 20-0 this season when leading at half.https://t.co/idZfXZYnFV
Continuing the trend in the second game of FSU’s Saturday-Monday turnarounds, the Seminoles shot poorly from beyond the arc in the first half and appeared a step slow on defensive rotations.
Coming out of the locker room the Seminoles had two chances to cut into the lead, but Forrest and Walker each missed a bunny around the basket. Meanwhile, Louisville continued their strong execution with a bucket and a pair of free throws and suddenly they had their largest lead of the game.
But FSU wasn’t going to just go away on their home court and a lightning fast 6-0 burst trimmed the lead in half. Undaunted, Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble hit a ridiculous step-back from deep, with a hand in his face, and a Dwayne Sutton layup on the next trip down had the lead right back up to 51-40.
Louisville was playing at an elite level. Making matters worse, Walker had to be helped off the court with what appeared to be an ankle injury. The Seminoles had officially entered the danger zone:
Florida State's M.J. Walker had to be helped off the court after rolling his ankle when awkwardly colliding with an official. pic.twitter.com/QOHPNvTmzs— ESPN (@espn) February 25, 2020
Vassell stopped the bleeding with a pull-up jumper, plus the harm, but every time FSU needed a stop the Cardinals had an answer. This time it was Olejniczak failing to box out and UL getting an easy put-back.
With the score at 55-49, FSU finally got the stop it needed on a steal by Williams and Vassell buried a three on the secondary break to bring the Seminoles within three.
If you had a little one in the Tucker Center I hope they had some earmuffs, because this was a “blow the roof off the building” type of game.
After a couple of empty possessions for both teams, Williams backed-down David Johnson to draw the fourth foul on the Louisville freshman and sink a pair of free throws. A Nwora missed three led to Rayquan Evans making two from the stripe and FSU suddenly had a 56-55 lead.
A tremendous defensive rebound by Polite led to a layup with contact for Evans. He would miss the and-one, but Polite came up big on the offensive glass and Walker—back from injury—hit a pair to push FSU’s lead out to 60-55.
Then it was showtime. Fresh Kimble got stuck in the paint after Olejniczak cut off his drive, forcing an ill-advised pass. This was deflected and then stolen by Williams and the fabulous freshman threw down a Dominique Wilkins esque hammer, sending the crowd into jubilation and forcing a timeout from Chris Mack:
Now it was Louisville facing danger time. McMahon temporarily silenced the crowd with three free throws, but Polite atoned for the foul with a beautiful baseline drive and finish. FSU now led 64-58 with 7:54 left and the two squads entered the championship rounds.
Tired legs appeared to be setting in for both squads, as they are wont to do in the final rounds of a heavyweight fight. But Walker stole an in bounds pass and flipped it ahead to Forrest for a layup and a 7 point lead. The next trip down, Williams sank a pair at the line and the lead was 69-60. Louisville was on the ropes.
Steven Enoch stopped the bleeding with a badly needed basket, but Gray went to the line and made two, bringing the lead right back to nine. The under-four minute media timeout served as a much needed bell for the Cardinals, the score at 73-64 ‘Noles and only 3:12 to play. With FSU in the double-bonus, all the Seminoles needed to do was play turnover-free basketball, grab defensive rebounds, and make free throws.
Walker split a pair to bring FSU’s lead up into double digits. Next, after grabbing a defensive board, it was Gray’s turn to split a pair. The lead was 11. A silly foul by FSU gave UL an and-one opportunity and they cashed in. 75-67. Then came the boom.
Walker broke a press with a pass over the top to a streaking Forrest and the senior from Chipley threw down a tomahawk jam, posterizing Nwora, the potential ACC Player of the Year, in the process:
Forrest had caught Louisville with their gloves down and connected on the upper cut to the chin.
Walker added another fast-break dunk a possession later and lady who needs to go on a keto diet (the proverbial “fat lady” for those of you a little slow this evening/morning) started singing for all to hear. In one of the most hyped regular season games in the history of FSU basketball, the home team came through in a big way.
After popping for 40 in the first half, the Cardinals could only muster 27 in the second. McMahon, unconscious before the break, was shut down over the last 20 minutes.
Florida State, in typical fashion, finished with five guys in double figures, led by 16 from Forrest. After coughing the rock up 9 times in the first half, the ‘Noles gave it away only twice after halftime:
#Noles outscored #Cards 50-27 in 2H.— Tomahawk Nation (@Tomahawknation) February 25, 2020
After intermission, #FSU turned it over just twice, leading to ZERO points for the visitors.
Forrest & Vassell combined for 24 PTS, while Nwora & McMahon only had 5.
Oh and #LOU is now 20-ONE when leading at half this season... https://t.co/4pkhyItfWl
The Seminoles now surge into contention for a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament and have a legit shot of at least tying for the best regular season record in the ACC. But a trip to pesky Clemson awaits this weekend, and the Tigers have already defeated Louisville and Duke at home. The ‘Noles can celebrate tonight, but need to move on from this one quickly.