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Florida State not competitive against South Florida, loses third straight

A disappointing performance in Sunrise.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Miami (FL) Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State, which came into this game having blown double-digit leads in back-to-back losses against UGA and UNC, never even got that far in this one. The Seminoles struggled from the opening tip, falling behind by as much as 17 in the first half, 26 in the second half, before ultimately losing 88-72. With the loss, FSU’s once promising start to the year has officially derailed. The ‘Noles fall to 4-4 overall, while remaining 0-1 in league play.

First Half:

As Michael Rogner wrote about in his Five Things, FSU came into this game ranked 5th in the country at opponents’ 3 point percentage at 25.2%. Meanwhile, South Florida came in 356th in the nation (aka, second to last) in three-point shooting at 24.2%. Naturally, the Bulls scorched the nets from deep in the first half.

South Florida opened up a quick 8-0 lead on the back of two made threes, one of them a terrible shot that banked in and the other by Kasean Pryor, who was 1-19 in his three-year college career coming in.

Florida State responded to the Bulls’ early punch by making a pair of threes of their own, the first by Jamir Watkins off a feed from Darin Green, Jr, and then Watkins paid it forward with a good pass to Josh Nickelberry who stepped into the shot and drilled it. This cut the lead to 8-7 and it appeared like FSU weathered the early storm and was beginning to take control. That was not the case.

As has typically been the case when FSU has struggled this year, the Seminoles could not get anything going in transition. That’s not to say there wasn’t some early disruptiveness. FSU was getting deflections, blocked a couple shots, forced timeouts and shot clock violations. But nothing that led to live ball turnovers, or even run outs after missed shots. This forced FSU to consistently operate out of the half court and that’s just not a recipe for success for this year’s squad.

Meanwhile, on the other end, USF continued to make jump shots. Several of them were contested mid-range shots off the bounce, the kind of inefficient shots where you sort of just tip your cap when they go in. Some of them were solidly contested threes, while others were open corner threes after good ball movement—the kind that USF has been missing all season long.

The more this went on, the more FSU looked frustrated. When the ‘Noles did get the ball into the paint, they either failed to finish through contact or missed free throws. This seemed to impact the team’s defensive intensity, and South Florida started getting more open looks.

FSU found themselves down nine, 28-19, with a little over five minutes left in the half when another lazy FSU pass led to a steal and intentional foul. Two more South Florida free throws extended the deficit to 11, but the ‘Noles finally got a steal leading to an emphatic dunk. Unfortunately, the gimmer of momentum would not last long, as USF hit their 5th three in just 11 attempts to push their lead out to 12.

In a lot of games this season, FSU has done a great job closing out the first half. Today, like so many of the trends coming into this game, the opposite played out. It was the Bulls who seized control with a blitzkrieg run. It was the Bulls forcing steals and getting out in transition. It was the Bulls finishing at and around the rim. South Florida stretched their lead to 38-21 at the 2:30 mark, with the margin at 14 heading into half.

Second Half:

The second stanza picked up where the first left off. FSU shakily worked the ball inside from a half-court set, missed two free throws, then watched USF hit a three-ball. The next possession was yet another lazy pass by FSU, leading to a steal and dunk, and USF led by 19. Fun times.

Finally, with about 15 minutes left in the game FSU showed a bit of life. Watkins started it off with a straight rip at half-court that resulted in an easy dunk. Jaylan Gainey played great defense and then was rewarded with a lob at the other end. More disruption by FSU led to a Green, Jr. three-ball and just like that the USF lead was down to nine and plenty of time yet to play.

Following the burst of momentum, Coach Hamilton decided to make a large line change. This did not have the desired result. USF immediately responded with an 11-1 run and the game was basically over. Florida State did what team trailing by double-digits should do and got into the double bonus with 10 minutes left, but it doesn’t really matter much when you miss most of the freebies. Then things really began to snowball when it appeared the ‘Noles quit and USF started getting easy runouts and fast break buckets.

Box Score and Takeaways:

  • FSU was outplayed in nearly all facets. And worst of all, they were out hustled. A few weeks ago I wrote about how nice it was to just see guys smiling and playing with the selfless culture that has embodied this program under Leonard Hamilton. None of that was present today. In fact, when there was a glimmer of possibility, the Seminoles made no attempt to sustain the energy and crawl back into the game the way UGA and UNC did against FSU the last two games.
  • 8 games into the season, it’s pretty clear. If FSU is forcing live ball turnovers at a high clip, they can beat a lot of teams. If they are not, they will struggle. If they aren’t able to get out in transition and commit a lot of lazy, live ball turnovers of their own—as we saw in this game—the ‘Noles will be blown out.
  • Florida State did a great job getting to the free throw line. Florida State did a terrible job making free throws, which tracks on a day in which FSU didn’t appear capable of making much of anything.
  • In their last three games, USF shot a combined 16-70 from three (22.8%). Today, the Bulls shot 12-23 from deep.
  • Baba Miller had a rough, rough offensive game. It’s not that he wasn’t involved, he actually was a physical presence in the paint at times, blocking a shot and grabbing double-digit boards. But FSU just doesn’t have enough weapons to withstand Miller going 3-9 from the field and 4-13 from the free throw line.
  • FSU misses Cam Corhen. A lot. The big man, who is out with a toe injury, is a consistent source of offensive rebounding, defensive disruption, and a good finisher through contact around the bucket.
  • Lost in all the stink, there was one piece of positivity. Gainey looked much more comfortable on the court than he did two weeks ago. He had a nice screen and slip that resulted in a basket. He played good half-court defense. He was a strong presence on the glass. Still a lot of work to do coming back from an injury like that, but it was nice to see him have some good moments.

Looking Ahead:

Florida State gets a week to try and regroup from this disastrous performance, lacing them up against SMU at home on Saturday, December 16th, with an 8pm tip. Coming into the South Florida game it looked like it would be a solid matchup against two pretty even teams. I’m not sure how one can say that now, but I guess who knows with this team.