If you listened to Michael Rogner and I on the podcast earlier this week, you heard us both predict a comfortable win for the Pittsburgh Panthers over FSU, as the Panthers have weapons to do two things FSU has struggled to defend all season—break teams down off the dribble and make a lot of threes.
We were wrong.
Instead, it was Florida State raining in threes from all over the court, finishing 10-20 from deep, and the Seminoles walked out of the Oakland Zoo with a surprising 71-64 victory. This is the second straight league win away from home for the Seminoles, after starting the season 0-8 outside the confines of the Tucker Center.
All five starters for Pitt are transfers with oodles of college basketball experience and that experience was apparent to start the game. Florida State committed turnovers on their first two possessions, both a result of indecision forced by the Pitt Panther defense. This led to easy baskets for the home team in the early going and a 9-3 lead. Sensing his young team might already be on the ropes, Coach Hamilton spent an early timeout to try and calm his guys. Cameron Corhen scored immediately out of the timeout, but on defense the Seminoles still seemed on their heels. Jalen Warley got caught out of position late in a shot clock and fouled a 3 point shooter, and Pitt completed the 4-point play, making it 13-5. Two missed free throws by FSU on the next possession were followed by a second-chance layup at the other end and suddenly the Panthers led by 10 a little more than five minutes into the game.
But Florida State cut it to a 4 point deficit in the blink of an eye with back-to-back three balls by Caleb Mills and Darin Green, Jr and those two baskets lit a fire of garnet and gold momentum. Warley made a fantastic cut to the basket and was rewarded by an alert Matthew Cleveland. Mills made a flurry of shots. Green sank a step-back jumper from the short corner. Baba Miller gobbled up defensive rebounds and swatted away a would-be Panther lay-up. And Chandler Jackson swished a fade away in the lane off a sweet spin move. Pitt coach Jeff Capel finally called a timeout to try and stop the bleeding, but the timeout didn’t stop anything as Jackson drained a three-ball from the top of the key after FSU’s press forced a turnover.
When the dust settled, the Seminoles used a 20-2 run to grab a 25-17 lead with 9:20 remaining. It’s possibly the best stretch of two-way basketball for FSU since prior to Malik Osborne going down with injury mid-way through last season.
For the next five minutes, the physicality picked up for both teams and the scoring subsequently dropped off. Shots were made here and there, but mostly due to impressive individual plays being made by guys on both sides. Unfortunately, the fouls only seemed to be called on one side, with the ‘Noles having 7 fouls while Pitt had just 1. This allowed the Panthers to score points at the charity stripe despite shooting just 9-26 from the field. The only reason Florida State was able to maintain a working margin was Cleveland draining a pair of difficult turnaround jumpers, evoking shades of Al Thornton.
Just when it looked like the Panthers were clawing their way back toward the lead, Florida State landed another quick combination of punches. Warley showed off his high hoops IQ by jumping in front of a lazy pass in the backcourt, directly leading to another Green bomb from downtown. FSU then forced a shot clock violation and upped their lead to a dozen when Warley dropped a sweet, one-handed dish to a cutting Cleveland, who was fouled on the way up and made a pair at the line.
Pitt made their 8th and 9th free throws of the half before the horn sounded, but FSU held a double-digit lead going into the locker room after being down 10 just 15 minutes prior.
Similar to the Notre Dame game earlier in the week, FSU’s scoring attack was balanced in the first half. This included five points each from Miller and Jackson, critical bench contributions.
The second stanza opened with intense, back and forth action. It was obvious that FSU wanted to come out and keep the foot on the gas pedal, but it was also obvious Pitt knew that they simply couldn’t let the game get away from them. Losing to a 6-13 FSU team at home is a big time black eye for any team looking to be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and the Panthers fall into that category.
The Panthers shot 2-11 from three in the first half and a big part of that was junior Blake Hinson going 0-3. As one might expect, that did not last. Hinson came out of the locker room white hot, hitting not one, not, two, but three shots from deep in the opening stretch of the second half. And while FSU was able to manufacture buckets in the first 3-4 minutes (one off a beautifully executed pick and roll from Green to Corhen for an easy dunk), the three pointers that were falling for Florida State in the first half started clanging in the second. Add in an unusually long stretch without a whistle that had FSU guys sucking wind and Pitt was able to turn long rebounds into baskets at the other end.
The result was a 10 point halftime lead for the Seminoles turning into a 48-45 lead for the panthers at the 13:30 mark. Pitt extended it to 50-45 after two more free throws and it was now a 10-0 run for the Panthers.
The bleeding was finally stopped by Green, who pulled up for three from the Allegheny and then drilled a step-back mid-range shot on the next trip down. The ‘Noles had a chance to tie it up at 52, but Cleveland got a little out of control and dragged a pivot foot as he tried to put on the breaks.
But who needs a tie when you can take the lead? Florida State ran a perfectly executed elevator screen, with Miller and De’Ante Green closing the elevator doors and freeing Green, Jr up for a nothing-but-net three and the Seminoles emerged from the corner bloodied but still standing, taking a 53-52 lead. After trading baskets for a short stretch, FSU would then extend their lead to four points, at 60-56, behind back-to-back easy layups for Green (De’Ante), both coming off pretty feeds from Mills. The second of the two was particularly nice, as Mills put some english on a one-handed bounce pass through the lane.
More back and forth basketball left the score at 62-59 Florida State going into the final media timeout, with Green, Jr. fouled on a three point attempt just before the commercials. Green drilled all three out of the break and FSU led 65-59. But Pittsburgh cut the lead right back to three on a deep ball from Nelly Cummings. This was a second-chance bucket as Mills looked to secure a rebound off a previous miss by Cummings, but a suspect no-call on an over-the-back caused the ball to bounce out of bounds and gave it back to Pitt.
The two teams traded empty possessions until Jamarious Burton hit a tough runner in the lane to make it 65-64 FSU. But mama, there goes that man. Green, Jr. hit a step-back three, his 5th of the game, to put Florida State back up by four with 90 seconds left. The Seminoles had a chance to extend it even further, but Mills forced a drive instead of passing to an open Cleveland in the corner and the ball bounced off his leg and out of bounds. However, no damage was done as the teams again traded empty possessions, including Mills making up for the turnover with some nice transition defense to draw a player-control foul against the Panthers.
Mills would then make 1 of 2 from the line to push the lead to 69-64 with just over 20 seconds left, and then following a missed three by the Panthers, Green, Jr. sank two free throws to make it 71-64 with 11 seconds left and the game was over.
Green Jr. was the clear standout, carrying FSU on his back for stretches of the second half. The junior finished with 24 points on just 12 shots and adding 4 assists and a pair of rebounds.
Speaking of two rebounds, Cleveland finished a pair of rebounds short of extending his double-double streak to 9, ending the game with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block.
Box Score and Takeaways:
—Darin Green, Jr. can flat out shoot the basketball. Shocking news, I know. Folks in Tallahassee, do yourself a favor and come out to the Tucker Center for a game this week just to see this guy shoot. It’s as pretty a shot as you’ll find in college basketball.
—Baba Miller and Chandler Jackson are making a difference. While both are still improving their conditioning and comfort on the court, both are clearly starting to make an impact. The first half point contributions were huge and Miller’s size presents mismatches on the court even if it’s someone else who ends up as the beneficiary. And when you look at the minutes distributions, you see guys like Cleveland and Green, Jr. at 34 instead of 38 or 39. That might not seem like a huge difference, but 5 minutes of extra rest scattered throughout a game sure makes a difference on shots and rotations when it’s time to close out a win. I’m hoping to see the coaching staff get Miller up over 20 minutes and Jackson at least in the 12-15 minute range over the next few games.
—For the first time all season, FSU actually looked a little disruptive on defense! There were steals when FSU applied backcourt pressure, there were deflections in passing lanes, and there were even a couple weakside blocks. Make no mistake, Pitt still had plenty of open looks from deep and FSU was lucky that a few more didn’t fall. But it was nice to see stretches where Florida State did what Hamilton predicates the entire defense around, which is forcing the other team to feel uncomfortable.
—That might end up being the type of loss that costs an NCAA Tourney bid for the Panthers. We talked about FSU being a potential bubble-burster in league play and Pitt just became the first victim against a vastly improved Florida State squad.
What were some of your takeaways? Share them in the comments!
Florida State comes back to Tallahassee for a two-game home stand. The first of the two is a visit from the rivals down in Coral Gables on Tuesday night. Isaiah Wong and the explosive Hurricanes come in after a hard-fought loss in Cameron Indoor and will be hungry to get their 16th win of the season against the Seminoles.