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Florida State beats Wake Forest, handing Deacs first loss in 10 games

Winning streak!

Florida State Men’s Basketball

Don’t look now, but Florida State (9-6, 3-1) is on a roll. Coming off two victories over middling ACC opponents, Florida State stepped it up a notch to lead for 33 minutes against a Wake Forest team that came in on a nine-game winning streak, ultimately holding off the Demon Deacons by five, 87-82. Jamir led the way with a team high in points (19) and assists (9), while Darin Green, Jr. added 17 points, 5 boards, and 5 steals.

First Half:

Wake Forest opened the contest on a 5-0 run, with FSU missing a couple of makeable layups during the stretch, which would unfortunately be a trend for the half. However, the ‘Noles used disruptive defense and longer distance shot-making to counter with a 10-0 run, doubling-up the Demon Deacons. The defensive intensity would continue, featuring several big-time blocks by Jamir Watkins and Baba Miller. This seemed to have the visitors back on their heels, as they weren’t necessarily expecting this level of fight from a team just two games over .500.

The teams played some back-and-forth basketball for the next few minutes. Darin Green, Jr. swished a transition three to give FSU an 8 point lead, but Wake hit a three-ball of their own to bring the score to 20-15 with just under 11 minutes left in the half. From there, the Seminoles unleashed a quick 7-0 burst that culminated with a Green, Jr. dunk after a Watkins steal. The crowd was on its feet, forcing Steve Forbes to call a timeout to regroup.

Truthfully, it was an outstanding first 12 minutes by the ‘Noles. They forced Wake into a 29% turnover rate, shot 4-6 from three, and kept the game moving at a fast pace. Those areas are their recipe for success this season, and at the under-8 timeout, it was 27-17 Noles.

Out of the timeout, the Seminoles got a bit disjointed. Guys were stagnant off the ball on offense, while the Demon Deacons noticeably picked up their ball-pressure, forcing several late-clock, difficult shots. On the other end, the Deacs hit consecutive threes and just like that the margin was trimmed to four, 27-23. FSU finally stopped the 8-0 Wake run when Watkins sank a pair of freebies after being fouled in the act of shooting.

After a Taylor Bol Bowen three from the top of the key briefly pushed the FSU lead back to 7, Wake continued to dig in and do work. Efton Reid, a player who seriously considered FSU out of high school, did a lot of the damage with his scoring, rebounding, and passing. His jumper tied the game at 34, and Wake would actually extend that lead out to 38-34. After all that work by the Seminoles, they now found themselves trailing by two possessions.

However, displaying the same improved mental toughness they showed against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday, Florida State didn’t wilt. On the contrary, FSU won the final 90 seconds 8-3 behind the scoring tandem of Cameron Corhen and Miller, and headed to the locker room with a slim 42-41 lead.

Watkins and Green, Jr. were the two most noteworthy performers in the opening half, but the ‘Noles received strong contributions from all over the court.

Second Half:

FSU opened the second stanza getting back to what they were doing best early in the first half—forcing Wake Forest turnovers. After the Deacons briefly took the lead on two free throws, Florida State turned Wake over on six of the next seven possessions with a mix of live and dead-ball takeaways. And while the Seminoles couldn’t take advantage of every one, it was enough to enable FSU to turn a one-point deficit into an 11 point lead, 54-43.

The FSU margin grew to 13 after Chandler Jackson’s first bucket of the game, but FSU’s bench couldn’t hold the lead. A lightning fast 7-0 run, fueled by some FSU turnovers, cut the lead to six. Bol Bowen stopped the bleeding with a sweet turnaround jumper, but a Primo Spears turnover in the lane allowed Wake to get it right back to a half-dozen at the under-12 media timeout.

Between the 12 and 8 minute mark, the Seminole bench did just enough to hold their own. Jackson made a couple of silky-smooth jumpers, and Spears got an acrobatic layup to fall, but the Demon Deacons had suddenly caught fire on the other end and matched the ‘Noles basket for basket. A bump-foul by Nickelberry at the 8:05 mark stopped the clock and allowed Hamilton to get five fresh bodies on the court with FSU clinging to a 67-62 lead.

Unfortunately, the fresh bodies couldn’t keep Wake from getting into the paint. And combined with Florida State missing multiple shots from point-blank range, it was a repeat of the first half with Wake Forest coming back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead, 69-67. But just like the first half, the Seminoles had an answer.

Watkins went on a personal 5-0 run to give FSU a three-point lead, followed by Miller splitting a pair at the line and Warley sinking a pair. Wake got a layup to cut the deficit back to 4, but Green Jr. tickled the twine on a three-ball, giving the Seminoles a 7 point lead with 4:04 remaining. A couple possessions later, Green, Jr. took a steal the distance and brought the crowd to its feet with a slam dunk, essentially icing the game. To be clear, FSU had to close it out at the free throw line, which they did just fine, and FSU walked into the locker room with an 87-82 victory.

For the game the ‘Noles shot 7-13 from three and forced Wake into turnovers on 26.3% of their possessions. That’s a winning combination!

Box Score, Takeaways, and Post-Game:

  • There was a noticeable and concerted effort to get into the paint and to the rim. Although it didn’t pay off with a lot of made shots, as Florida State actually shot a terrible percentage on layups and short jumpers, it forced Wake Forest into foul trouble and also allowed FSU shooters to get open looks from the perimeter.
  • Resiliency when things aren’t going well is drastically improved from a few weeks ago. In games vs. the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, North Carolina Tar Heels, and SMU Mustangs, opponents turned 7-0 runs into 15-0 or 19-1 knockout punches. But in this one, FSU was able to dig deep and find a way to get a stop or a bucket (or both) to limit the damage.
  • Darin Green, Jr. said over the winter break that his goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament and his actions back up his words. He’s taken his defense to levels I was previously not sure he could reach (five steals!), while still making shots. In one play late in the game he intercepted a pass, streaked in for a rim shaking dunk, and then while his teammates celebrated, he was the first one back to stop Wake in the paint from getting an easy transition basket. Huge tip of the cap to the senior, who was worth the price of admission himself.
  • Jamir Watkins had his best game in a few weeks, and boy was it needed. The transfer from VCU filled up the box score with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 9 assists, a block, a steal, and several deflections. Perhaps most impressive was his 11-11 performance from the free throw line. There’s no way the ‘Noles win this game without him.
  • Baba Miller continued his much improved, more confident play. Two free throws at the end of the first half were big for his confidence and to give FSU the lead after a hard-fought first half.
  • Jalen Warley is a really good defender. That’s it. That’s the takeaway.

If you’ve never heard an interview with Wake Forest head man Steve Forbes, do yourself a favor and check this one out. (And if you have heard one, you know you’ll want to watch this one too!) Forbes is a country boy who knows a heck of a lot about hoops and likes to tell a joke too. He gave some great insight into what FSU likes to do, how to attack it, and where Wake fell short—all while getting audible laughs from the media members on multiple occasions.

Jamir Watkins and Baba Miller also answered questions about the win, their performance, how FSU has improved over the last few weeks, and what they need to do to carry the momentum onto the road.

Looking Ahead:

Florida State hits the road for the first time since December 9th, taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this Saturday at 2:15pm. The game will be broadcast on the CW.