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Florida State pulls off second-half comeback, holds on for win over Virginia Tech: Recap, Q&A with Baba Miller and Primo Spears

Noles do what they couldn’t against UGA.

Baba Miller saves the ball from going out of bounds against Virginia Tech
Peyton Baker

Florida State used offensive rebounding to power an 11-0 second half run and then held on for dear life to thwart a furious Virginia Tech Hokies comeback, escaping with a 77-74 win. This is the Seminoles’ (8-6, 2-1) 4th win in their last 5 games and puts them one win away from sweeping their three-game ACC home stand. It was a balanced attack, as FSU had 5 guys score between 9 and 11 points, in addition to 8 points and 10 rebounds from Baba Miller.

First Half:

Florida State took an early lead as Darin Green, Jr. made his first two shots, which is typically a great sign for how his day will go and also the type of defensive effort the ‘Noles will give. Unfortunately, FSU missed a couple of good opportunities to extend the lead, one due to a terrible inbounds pass and one when a great pass from Primo Spears caught Cameron Corhen completely unaware.

Green, Jr. made his third straight shot after the first media timeout to give FSU an 11-9 lead. The crowd was then treated to some helter-skelter hoops for a few minutes at both ends of the court with a series of missed shots, blocked shots, and bad passes. The result of the “stretch of stink” was FSU extending the lead to 14-9, but one couldn’t help but feel like they missed a good opportunity to be up more.

A couple minutes later, the feeling turned into reality. Long-time FSU foes Huntor Cattoor and Sean Pedulla hit back-to-back threes and just like that the Hokies had their first lead at 15-14. The contest was briefly tied at 17 following a De’Ante Green “old-fashioned” three-point play, but the Hokies’ modern three-point scoring continued. Pedulla hit his second of the game and then MJ Collins, a 21% perimeter shooter on the season, hit one from the corner. Pedulla added a jumper inside the arc and suddenly Virginia Tech enjoyed a 25-17 lead with under 6 minutes left in the half.

In a sign of growth from earlier in the season, the Seminoles fought back. Florida State, just 1-8 from three in the first half, started getting aggressive toward the basket. This resulted in free throws for Jamir Watkins, a short jumper for Corhen, and a layup for Watkins. And there should have been another dunk in there by Jaylan Gainey, but it was stolen from the Seminoles with a terrible basket interference call. On the other end, the Noles were able to get Josh Nickelberry on Pedulla, instead of big men (such as Miller and Corhen) and Tech’s offense looked a lot more disjointed.

The first half concluded with a thunderous put-back dunk by Jalen Warley, who seemingly flew in from the rafters, while the Hokies were unable to get a shot off on the other end. When the horn sounded, Florida State trailed just 30-27 despite shooting 1-8 from three, while Tech was 5-14. The difference? FSU went 6-7 from the charity stripe, with the Hokies—6th in the country at FT%—just 1-3.

Second Half:

The first five minutes of the second stanza saw the Seminoles fail to take advantage of several opportunities to cut into the deficit. Yes, there were a few nice plays made, such as Chandler Jackson finding a cutting Miller for a great transition dunk, but there were too many miscues for a team looking to make a second half comeback. Compounding the problem, Virginia Tech continued to benefit from more than their fair share of 50/50 (or worse) calls, such as having a player fall down on their own accord and getting bailed out by a foul that directly led to the Hokies’ eighth three of the game. Add it all up, and VT stretched the lead to 7 at the under-16.

Coming out of the first media timeout the game changed radically. What had been a fairly loosely-called and free-flowing contest (not to be confused with “well-played”), rapidly morphed into a festival of whistles. Just before the devolution, freshman Taylor Bol Bowen went on a personal 5-0 run to cut the VT lead to 41-37, and then a Corhen dunk made it a two-point game. From there, the whistles came fast and furious. Both teams had 5 team fouls before the 12:30 mark, and VT was actually whistled for their 6th and 7th before the under-12 media timeout, on an and-1 by Gainey, no less.

Tech was able to maintain a tight lead during this stretch thanks to their 9th three of the game (a second by your 21% shooter...), but as the whistles kept coming, the Hokies started getting frustrated. This is when FSU stepped up their offensive rebounding to levels not previously seen this season. Two missed free throws were somehow turned into a four-point possession thanks to four different Florida State offensive rebounds, giving the ‘Noles their first lead since early in the first half. The lead doubled when Miller stole a lazy pass under FSU’s basket and turned it into a bucket plus some harm. He missed the freebie, but yet another offensive rebound led to a Corhen layup, plus a foul, and the Seminoles extended the lead to 55-48.

From there the game seemed to find a solid rhythm again, and the two squads played some fun, back-and-forth basketball. Florida State took advantage of foul trouble on Tech’s two big men and got almost anything they wanted around the rim, with Gainey doing much of the damage. At the other end, VT continued knocking down jumpers.

With the ‘Noles nursing a 66-63 lead, Miller found Gainey underneath on a beautiful pass, and the big man threw down a two-handed slam to give FSU a two-possession lead. This spurred a mini-run for the Seminoles, as Spears got an acrobatic, and-1 layup to drop after kissing one high off the glass, and then Watkins went coast-to-coast for a layup after grabbing a missed Pedulla three. The Florida State lead was 73-63, and the Tucker Center crowd was on its feet.

From there things got scary. VT made four straight free throws to quickly cut the lead to 6 with little time running off the clock. Warley split a pair to push the lead back to 7, but then Pedulla made a layup and a three, the latter coming after a highly questionable carrying violation was called on Spears just past half court. This cut the lead to two with 59 seconds remaining.

The teams traded missed jumpers, before Spears stepped to the line for two with a chance to ice the game. He did not. The Georgetown Hoyas transfer missed them both, and Pedulla tied the game at 74 when he calmly sunk two from the stripe with 5.9 seconds left. The free throws capped an 11-1 VT run in just over two minutes and left FSU players and fans stunned.

But the Noles found a way, as Jackson inbounded the ball the ball to Spears, who quickly got into the front-court and attacked the basket. As he went in for a layup a foul was called (the first 50/50 call to go FSU’s way all half) and Spears went to the line with 1.2 seconds left for a shot at redemption. With the crowd falling to hush, he made them both. The Hokies’ inbounds pass went out of bounds and Bol Bowen made one more free throw to ice the game.

Box Score, Takeaways, and Post Game:

  • This was unquestionably Baba Miller’s best game as a Seminole. The sophomore filled up the box score with 8 points, 10 rebounds (3 offensive), 5 assists, and 3 steals.
  • Jaylan Gainey continues to look better and better on his road to recovery. He finished with 11 points—easily his high as a Seminole—on an efficient 5-7 from the field, to go along with 3 rebounds in less than 12 minutes of action.
  • Darin Green, Jr. started the game 3-3 (in the first 6 minutes). He didn’t attempt another shot until a few minutes into the second half. That’s unacceptable (teammates and staff both deserve some blame).
  • Virginia Tech came into the matchup ranked 6th in the country in free throw percentage, making more than 78% of their attempts. Today, the Hokies went 13-20 (65%) with Pedulla missing three (5-8). That made up for FSU having two points stolen from them.
  • The Seminoles shot 3-15 from three, with Watkins—FSU’s second-best deep threat this season—going 0-4. However, for the first time all season, the Seminoles didn’t let the missed shots impact their intensity on defense, or diminish their aggressiveness toward the rim. This made the difference in the game.

Primo Spears and Baba Miller (Miller comes in halfway through) spoke at length with the media after the game. They gave good answers on a variety of topics, including how they adjust in games where the refs are inconsistent, the offensive rebounds, Primo’s confidence to make the last two free throws, and what they are seeing from Gainey. Miller’s comments about Gainey before his injury are particularly interesting.

Coach Hamilton spoke on a variety of topics as well, but what I found most interesting is how they prepare for multiple games at one time, which is helpful on quick turnarounds. To that end, Steve Smith has the scout for Wake Forest.

Looking Ahead:

The Seminoles close out their ACC home stand with a tilt against Wake Forest on Tuesday, January 9th. The Demon Deacons have won nine consecutive games.