Florida State entered the new year hoping to flip the script on their season and the unofficial start of ACC play brought the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to town. Florida State played with energy and tenacity from the jump, starting off 2024 with a 82-71 victory over the visitors from Atlanta. The Seminoles led for more than 35 minutes and were never seriously challenged.
It was an inauspicious start, as Georgia Tech—the 326th ranked team in the country in three point shooting—hit a deep shot for the game’s first basket. Fortunately, FSU countered with a surprising basket of their own, as Jalen Warley made his first three of the entire season, on his first attempt of the season no less. Nothing like shooting 100%! That was quickly followed by a three-ball from FSU’s most prolific deep threat, Darin Green, Jr., and the ‘Noles led 6-3 at the first media timeout.
While this shouldn’t be the case, we’ve seen a trend from the this year’s Seminoles where making shots early portends better effort on defense. This was certainly true against the Yellow Jackets. Green, Jr. played the most active and disruptive defense we’ve seen from him since he’s been in Tallahassee, getting his hands on several passes and deflections. Baba Miller was aggressive on the defensive glass, Jaylan Gainey was a physical presence, and Taylor Bol Bowen used his length and hoops IQ to disrupt numerous GT attempts.
The disruptiveness on defense allowed FSU to get out in transition and not get so bogged down in a half-court slugfest. Not surprisingly, this led to good looks at the basket within the flow of a fairly crisp offense. A Chandler Jackson three-ball put FSU up 8 and then a two-handed rim-rocker by Miller pushed the lead to double digits.
About the only thing keeping Georgia Tech within striking distance during the first half was offensive rebounding. The Yellow Jackets entered the game 21st in the nation in grabbing their own misses, so you figured they’d do damage against an FSU squad not known for cleaning the defensive glass. And there were certainly plenty of misses for them to gobble up. The Jackets trimmed the lead to 7 on an and-1 dunk with 6:34 remaining, but FSU quickly pushed it back out to a dozen with a nice move inside by Gainey, and a three from the wing by Tom House.
But GT kept rebounding and eventually worked it down to 7 points again, at 24-17. In previous games, that might be a moment when FSU wilted, but not this time. The ‘Noles closed the half on an 8-2 run over the final four minutes, capped off by a Cam Corhen tip-in just before the buzzer.
Considering how poorly the Jackets shot in the first half, it was essential that FSU go into halftime with a double-digit lead. In fact, opportunities were there to lead by 15 or more, but 13 points is at least 5 possessions. That three GT opened the game with? Turned out to be the only made perimeter shot of the half from Tech, as the visitors shot just 26% from the field and 1-14 from deep.
Florida State wasn’t brilliant, but 13-32 from the field and 4-10 from three were enough, especially when combined with forcing turnovers on 22% of GT’s first half possessions.
The ‘Noles began the second half exactly the way you’d want to see a team up double-digits come out of the locker room: being patient on offense and making Tech work for their points on the other end. After two free throws from Tech cut the lead to 10, FSU went on a quick 7-0 run that included buckets by De’Ante Green, Green, Jr., and Jackson, with a Josh Nickelberry free throw as the cherry on top.
Tech used a little spurt of their own, but Jamir Watkins made a three for his first basket of the game and the lead jumped right back to 15. The teams continued to trade baskets and freebies in some back-and-forth basketball, which is great if you’re the squad with a double-digit lead.
Around the 11 minute mark, Florida State made the kind of poor decisions (for the first time) that allow a team to score quickly and believe they have a chance of coming back. Miller attempted a step-back three with plenty of time on the shot clock that led to a long rebound and an open three, and that was immediately followed by Primo Spears getting a little too fancy on the dribble and losing it for an easy GT transition basket. With the lead whittled down to eight, Corhen made a huge play to stop the bleeding, as he was once again in the right place for a tip-in.
The working margin remained between 8 and 13 points from the 11:11 mark until 45 seconds left in the game. Tech shot much better from three in this half, but every time they hit one, FSU seemed to have an answer. The real culprit preventing Florida State from pulling away was a large disparity in free throws. Over the first 16 minutes of the half, GT attempted 13 free throws to FSU’s 3. Fortunately for FSU, the Jackets missed about as many as they made, allowing the ‘Noles to keep a comfortable lead.
The dagger came with just under two minutes to play. Having trimmed the deficit to nine, Tech elected to play defense straight up instead of fouling. The decision looked like it might pay off, as the ‘Noles had nothing going for the possession, but then Green, Jr. hit a corner three as the shot clock expired. From there, FSU hit enough free throws to close out the much-needed victory.
Box Score, Takeaways, and Press Conference:
- Chandler Jackson set a career-high with 14 points. The sophomore had an injury-plagued freshman season and a summer that featured a mysterious suspension, but he’s certainly looking more confident and comfortable the last couple weeks. Hopefully that continues in ACC action.
- Jaylan Gainey is maybe 70% fit (conditioning-wise), but he sure makes a difference when he’s out there. I’m interested to see what he can do in February.
- This defensive effort against Lipscomb would have resulted in a 20 point win. For a team that claims to want to make the NCAA Tournament, they have to figure out a way to defend with intensity in games where their shot is off.
- The FSU bench scored 42 points in this one, something we haven’t seen in years. In what used to be a Leonard Hamilton special, all 12 guys who played scored.
Coach Hamilton speaking about what the team did well and how he challenged Chandler Jackson:
Chandler Jackson discussing how Coach Hamilton challenged him before the game, his career high, and how FSU needs to treat every game as “must win.”
Florida State continues its nearly month-long home stand with a tilt against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday, January 6th. VT is 9-4 on the season and 1-1 in ACC play.