Coming off their first non-conference home loss in more than six years, Florida State pulled away from Gardner-Webb for a 72-59 grinding win. This moves FSU to 5-1 on the young season.
The game opened with a first possession ally-oop from M.J. Walker to Balsa Koprivika, exciting the crowd and the FSU bench. Two possessions later, freshman Scottie Barnes sank a three for the 4th time in 5 games and FSU grabbed a quick 5-3 lead.
That was about it for offensive rhythm in the first half.
The 5-3 score remained for the next four minutes, before Gardner-Webb finally broke through with a free throw. Neither team was shooting well and FSU compounded the issue by turning it over on numerous unforced errors, sporting a 41.7% turnover rate 8 minutes into the game. At the 11:15 mark, Gardner-Webb was 3-11 from the field and yet led the Seminoles 12-6.
A brief 9-0 run gave FSU a 15-12 lead a couple minutes later, but Lance Terry’s third three of the first 12 minutes knotted things up at 15 just before the under-8 timeout.
Anthony Polite went on a personal 7-0 run to jump the ‘Noles back in front 22-18, but Florida State was unable to really stretch the lead out. Much of that was due to whistles. The stop-and-start half featured 10 more called fouls (25) than the combined number of made field goals for both teams.
It appeared that FSU might take its largest lead of the game into the break, but RaiQuan Gray’s nifty tip-in was waived off for being too big to box out and Gardner-Webb made a pair of free throws with 0.4 seconds left in the half. This resulted in the Seminoles taking a 31-28 lead into the locker room. Terry led all scorers in the first twenty minutes with 15, with Polite’s nine pacing FSU.
Half number two began with much better rhythm and shooting by both squads. The Runnin’ Bulldogs opened up 5-7 from the field and the Seminoles, while still too sloppy, started 3-5.
Then a scary moment for Florida State fans came a few minutes in, as Barnes rolled on the ground in pain grabbing his ankle before limping off. While he was observed walking around on the sideline...
However, the team responded immediately. Walker drilled a pair of free throws and then a corner three to give FSU a 42-39 lead. The run continued with a Polite baseline drive and dunk and then two straight buckets by Malik Osborne. Suddenly the ‘Noles led 48-39 and the Runnin’ Bulldogs called a timeout.
The stoppage in play had its intended effect and Gardner-Webb soon cut into the lead. FSU got looks, several in close after offensive rebounds, but the shots weren’t falling with many going halfway down and rimming out. At the 10:07 mark the score stood 50-47 Seminoles and Barnes checked back in. Osborne flushed home a viscous put-back dunk and it appeared that FSU might push the lead out again. Unfortunately, made jump shots remained elusive, despite a plethora of wide-open attempts. The Seminoles clung to a 52-50 lead at the under-media timeout, shooting just 15-50 from the field.
Barnes grabbed a steal out of the timeout that led to Gray sinking a pair of free throws, however the Runnin’ Bulldogs drilled a three on the other end to make it 54-53. Polite split a pair on the next trip down to bring the lead back to two. Barnes then swatted a lay-up attempt off the backboard, which led to another transition opportunity and ultimately another split-pair by Polite. Wrecking havoc on defense, Barnes then stole the inbounds pass which resulted in a layup for Polite and the Seminoles led 58-53.
The bad news for FSU at that time was Walker and Osborne both picked up their 4th fouls, leaving the ‘Noles with a bit of an unorthodox lineup of Rayquan Evans, Barnes, Polite, Gray, and Koprivika. The good news was Evans finally got a three to go down and Barnes continued his personal pledge of mayhem on defense. Florida State’s lead grew to 63-57 on a Barnes to Koprivika ally-oop, and then 65-57 after a pair of Koprivika free throws.
Another Evans three-ball extended the lead to 68-59 and from there it was basically over. The Green Vipers even got into the action a little with a made bucket by Justin Lindner and the final horn sounded on the Seminole victory.
Now, some might be thinking the team lacked effort or desire. However, from my perch in section SE2 of the Tuck, the bigger culprit to me appeared to be mental and physical energy. Let’s take Walker for example. The senior played the same number of 35+ minute games in the 12 days leading up to the Gardner-Webb matchup (3), as he did in his three previous seasons combined. Jump shots were short for much of the game, with FSU finishing an anemic 21-61 from the floor even with a lot of open looks. The saving grace was free throws, as FSU shot 75% from the stripe and made more (24) than Gardner-Webb attempted (18). It wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.
Polite played great, nearly notching a double-double with 15 points (on 5-8 shooting) and 9 rebounds. Koprivika also gave 23 solid minutes, contributing 14 and 8, plus two blocks. The big man was 6-6 from the charity stripe.
The Seminoles now get a much needed week off before traveling to Littlejohn to take on an improved Clemson Tigers team.