In an exciting win, Florida State defeated North Carolina 82-75 in front of a national audience on ESPN on Saturday afternoon. FSU (7-2, 3-1 ACC) continued their hot shooting streak offensively, knocking down 50-percent of their three’s and connecting on 26-of-27 from the free throw line.
Despite a sprained ankle early in the second half, senior guard M.J. Walker scored 21 points on just 11 shots and also grabbed 3 steals. Junior RaiQuan Gray stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 4 boards, 5 assists, and 3 steals of his own.
After the game, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, Walker, and sophomore center Balsa Koprivica joined the media for post-game comments. Here’s a full transcript:
Opening statement: “I think, obviously, we said to you guys last week, if we are going to win games while we are developing and growing, a lot would be in direct proportion to how much our players 6 through 11 were able to contribute. I thought we got great contributions from an energy standpoint from the full complement of all of our players. Obviously, we had some stars who played well, Walker and Gray.”
More opening statement: “Polite was a little under the weather. Didn’t practice the last couple of days, nothing real serious...Sardaar Calhoun came in and gave us a big bucket and a lot of energy. Ngom came in and gave us a block and a few points there in the first half. Malik gave us a big lift. I thought Wyatt’s cerebral play down the stretch there, we had guys who kind of needed a break. But that’s kind of who we are in terms of- Carolina is a good basketball team, but I thought this afternoon we just got a period there in the second half where we had several deflections, several steals. And we were able to convert those high-energy plays into baskets. It gave us a little breathing room. But like most teams in the ACC will do, they fought right back and put themselves right back into the situation.
On free throw shooting: “But I thought the fact that we were able to extend that lead, and be able hold them off was very, very important down the stretch. Hitting our free throws, obviously, was very important. Earlier in the year we weren’t hitting our free throws and I said I thought we were a good free throw shooting team. I think we are a pretty good perimeter shooting team. But we still are just starting to show, as we mature and gain more confidence, have a better feel for how we should play with each other, I think we are starting to be a little bit more relaxed and play a little better.”
On the play of the Koprivica and the frontcourt: “There is no doubt, being able to hold our own with the best rebounding team in the country was very important. That was part of the game plan going in. We needed Balsa to have the energy that he had tonight. 9 big rebounds against a team that leads the nation in rebounds. So, I was very pleased with that. Even with that they had 13 offensive rebounds, a little short of the 16.9 they normally get. Those four or five fewer offensive rebounds I thought made the difference in the outcome of the game.”
On free throw shooting: “Well, I can’t get too excited as of right now because I think we are still developing. We are hitting our free throws like we do in practice every day. We start emphasizing free throws way back in the spring, our guys have been in the gym working. So much is shooting free throws, so of the little things are mental and emotional being able to relax and go to the free throw line, being able to have the confident mindset. That is where we are still growing in those areas. But 26/27 at the line is good in anyone’s book. Once again that made a big difference this afternoon.”
On bench stepping up with Scottie out, and Walker and Polite’s status in question: “To be very honest with you, I literally thought I was gonna be down three starters for this game. Polite wasn’t feeling well, couldn’t keep any food down, but he passed his COVID tests, so that was good. M.J. was tweaked a little bit. And then Scottie, we didn’t think we were going to have him. When I came in through the gym this morning, and saw Polite came in, I thought ‘well, I have a shot’. But, We try to develop a rotation where if someone does go down, we are able to put someone in there and deliver. I was very proud of our guys today. Sardaar, Tanor, Jack, Malik, and Wyatt.
Those guys came through for us. That is who we are. Winning games by committee. That is how we built our program. There’s no doubt that was a culture win for us today. Everybody cheering for one another. Sharing the ball, sharing playing time. That’s been a strength of our program, and I’m proud of that.”
On Malik Osborne: “He is very capable of that. It just takes time to get into a rhythm. He is playing inside, outside, but what I was most pleased was he shot the ball with confidence. There was no hesitation on his part. That is what you like to see. It says that we have given our guys the freedom. We believe in them, they believe in themselves, and that’s part of our culture and who we are.”
On RaiQuan Gray: “What you don’t know about him is how he has become a student of the game. He has verbalizes all the things in our program, all the little things that he has learned while he has been here, he’s regurgitated it to the other guys.
On the high number of minutes recently for the starters: “I would love to be able to cut down their minutes. Especially when we have a game on Monday night. We are still going with our experienced players because we haven’t had our normal development process, no exhibitions or none of those earlier games. We are still learning as we go. We would like to get Malik, Wyatt, Calhoun more minutes.”
On free throw shooting: “We have been putting an emphasis on free throw shooting since pretty much my freshman year. We struggled a lot, we could have won a lot of games based on the free throw line. We start off practice by shooting free throws, mentally just locking in. That is a major component. At the end of our workouts we try to fatigue ourselves and shoot more free throws while we’re tired.”
On his injury: “It kind of scared me just the way I came down on it. I couldn’t really brace myself when I fell. When I came down on my ankle I thought it was going to hurt real bad. It kind of shocked me. It was hurting pretty good at first. They took me back, put some more tape on it, stretched it out, and did some therapy on it and I was back and rolling so.”
On facing multiple injuries on the team: “We have been in situations like that all the time. I remember we went to March Madness and we had injuries and stuff like that. It is just a matter of adjusting and figuring out a way to push through. I think Scottie is going to be well the more he gets treatment. We prepare for situations like that all time. Even with our practices. Figure out and adjust.”
On RaiQuan Gray: “His motor is huge. I think he still has another level to tap into. His main goal this summer was to lose weight and get his body more toned, get faster and stronger. Its showing all the work he has put in. He is focused. He is laser focused. The things that he brings to the game, his instincts are always in attack mode. Trying to make the right play for us. He is huge for us and he leads us in so many ways. He is getting the job done, I am just so proud of him. He is going to be to huge moving forward.”
On UNC: “Coming into the game we knew that they were the number one team in the country in rebounding. They play through their bigs. That was our number one game plan, fronting the post and blocking out every time on offense and defense, and trying to get as many rebounds as a team. We would always try to be the first guys to hit and go get the rebound.”
On Florida State’s defensive strategy: “Any guy at any given time can be at any place on the floor. There is no man. We are always changing, switching everything. Whenever we are fronting, we are always trusting the guards on the backside to go get it. Our guards, they did a tremendous job today. I think it showed.”
On the quick turnaround Monday versus Louisville: “We are just going to do the same thing we always do- take care of our body and get rest. Tomorrow we will go over the next team we are playing, again. Do everything we always do, I think it is more mentally being prepared. We’ve done a great job of staying in shape, so I think it is just mentally preparing for the next game.”