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Survive and advance: FSU basketball escapes UNC Greensboro in first round

RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica combine for 30 points.

NCAA Photos via Getty Images

No. 14 Florida State basketball advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament with a 64-54 first round win over UNC Greensboro. The Seminoles had a sluggish down on the offensive end, not making a three-pointer for the first time this season, but had the defense to escape the Spartans. The Seminoles were led by the play of RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica, as they combined for 30 points. FSU was able to do the most important thing in March: survive and advance.

Anthony Polite opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper on the Seminoles’ second possession. The Spartans called a quick timeout after back-to-back buckets inside the paint for Balsa Koprivica and RaiQuan Gray opened up an early 6-2 lead. UNCG had two early turnovers within the first three minutes while FSU had 0. M.J. Walker’s second early steal led to an easy fast-break bucket to push the early lead to six.

Florida State’s defense continued their intense play over the next four minutes. Eight minutes into the game, UNCG had more airballs than made field goals. The Spartans were 2-11 from the floor, both baskets from leading scorer Isaiah Miller, and 0-7 from three. They had a scoring drought of over six minutes. A Tanor Ngom lay-up and three free throws from Sardaar Calhoun gave FSU a 13-4 lead at the second media timeout. FSU shot 41.7% from the floor through the first eight minutes, but hadn’t hit a triple yet.

Out of the break, Koprivica slammed home an alley-oop to push FSU’s lead to double digits for the second time.

Keyshaun Langley responded for UNCG with the first three-pointer of the game. Gray missed two free throws at the 11-minute mark, but quickly redeemed himself over the next three minutes. The forward converted a floater before finding Ngom in transition for an easy slam. His third basket of the game, a jumper from just inside the arc, opened up a 14-point FSU lead. Wes Miller called his second timeout with Florida State up 21-7 and 7:26 remaining in the half.

Florida State’s offense stalled over the next few minutes due to sloppy play. The Seminoles turned the ball over on four straight possessions, including two straight offensive fouls on Koprivica. The turnovers led to Leonard Hamilton’s first timeout of the game. UNCG cut the lead down to 7 as Langley drained his second triple. Polite stopped a 9-0 Spartans’ run with his second basket. FSU led 25-16 at the last media timeout of the half.

Out of the timeout, the Spartans cut the lead back to seven as Miller skied high in the air for an alley-oop dunk off the inbounds pass.

The Spartans were sparked by the highlight play from Miller. Another Miller bucket in the paint and a floater from Angelo Allegri cut the lead to five. Gray’s second bucket in the three-minute span pushed the lead back to seven, but a four-point play from Langley cut the lead to three. FSU held a 16-point lead with seven minutes remaining in the half and led the entire twenty minutes, but had a disappointing 29-26 lead going into the locker room.

For the first time this season, the Seminoles didn’t make a triple in the first half, going 0 for 8 from deep. FSU also had zero second-chance points and just two offensive boards. The ‘Noles shot 48% from the floor, while UNCG was shooting 35.5%. The Seminoles had eight turnovers and both teams had seven points off turnovers. FSU made 12 of 17 two point shots. Gray led the way with 10 points on 5-7 shooting. The rest of the Seminoles were 7-18 from the floor. Ngom took more shots than Scottie Barnes and Walker combined.

Langley drained his fourth triple on the first possession to tie the game at 29. FSU quickly responded to the adversity as the Balsa Koprivica show began in Indianapolis. Over the first four minutes of the half, Koprivica had seven points, four boards, two blocks, and an assist. Florid State made their first five field goals of the half. The big man converted an and-one off his third dunk out of the first media timeout to give Florida State a 41-29 lead. It capped a 12-0 FSU run, which took just over three minutes.

A.J. McGinnis cut the Seminoles’ lead back to single digits with his first triple. It was the Spartans’ first bucket in nearly seven minutes. FSU went on a scoring drought of their own over the next few minutes. Barnes slammed home a dunk for the Seminoles’ first made basket in over three minutes. The slam was his first bucket on his first field goal in 16 minutes on the court. The dunk provided the ‘Noles with a 45-35 lead at the U-12 timeout.

UNCG roared back in the next few minutes as they found their stroke from deep. Off a Barnes turnover, Kaleb Hunter drained his first three to cut the lead to six. Osborne made two free throws to to extend the lead back to eight, but Langley splashed home his fifth three to cut it to five. Hunter made it three straight field goals for the Spartans with a fast-break lay-up. Hamilton called his second timeout, clinging to a 49-46 lead with 7:37 remaining.

Miller cut the lead to one as FSU’s offense continued to dwindle. The ‘Noles were held scoreless for over three minutes until a Polite dunk extended the lead to three with 5:16 remaining. Gray followed two Miller free throws with another bucket in the paint. The forward extended the lead to five as he banked a floater in. FSU led 55-50 at the last media timeout.

The Spartans had a chance to cut it back to a one-possession game after a steal and foul, but Miller missed the front end of a one-and-one. Miller got himself another steal on the next possession, but once again missed the front end. Koprivica converted on the Spartans’ missed opportunities, with a tough basket underneath the hop. He also missed a free throw that would’ve made it an and-one, but FSU’s lead was up to 7.

Two free throws from Hayden Koval cut the lead to five with one minute remaining, but an aggressive take-and-make from Walker pushed the lead back to seven within seven seconds. UNCG was unable to make a last-second miracle happen, as they couldn’t get their three-pointers to drop late. Two free throws from Polite were the dagger. Florida State never trailed.

Gray led the way with 17 points on 8-13 shooting and collected seven boards. Koprivica added 13 points and nine rebounds. Polite also had 12 points on 5-8 shooting. As a team, FSU shot 52% from the floor, despite being 0-9 from three. The ‘Noles held the Spartans to a 32% field goal percentage. 44 of FSU’s paints came in the paint, while UNCG had just 16.

Tonight’s win was FSU’s fourth straight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. FSU will play 5-seed Colorado on Monday.