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Sweet, sweet victory: FSU basketball advances to third straight Sweet 16 with win over Colorado

Anthony Polite scores career-high 22 points.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Colorado at Florida State Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State basketball advanced to their third straight Sweet Sixteen with a 71-53 win over Colorado tonight. The Seminoles’ junkyard defense was in full effect as they forced 19 turnovers and held the Buffaloes to a 35.7% field-goal percentage. Anthony Polite was the MVP on the court, scoring a career-high 22 points. The ‘Noles shot 52% from the floor, their third straight game over 50%. After not hitting any three-pointers in round one, they hit six against the Buffaloes. FSU will face one-seed Michigan in the next round.

The ‘Noles got off to a less than ideal start. Florida State’s first possession resulted in a turnover and a quick foul on Balsa Korpivica on an illegal screen. Colorado picked up two offensive boards and two second-chance points on the other end, as Korpivica was quickly subbed out for Tanor Ngom. FSU made it two turnovers on two possessions on a RaiQuan Gray carry.

Anthony Polite got the Seminoles on the board with their first triple of the tournament. Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz responded with a three-pointer of his own. Polite’s second triple gave FSU a 6-5 lead at the first media timeout. After attempting just one three-pointer in the last twenty minutes of the first round, four of the Seminoles’ first five shots came from beyond the arc.

Malik Osborne kept the hot-shooting going with his first three-pointer out of the timeout. A mid-range jumper from Tristan Da Silva ended a Colorado scoring drought of four minutes. Maddox Daniels tied the game at nine with an easy lay-up. Koprivica picked up a critical second foul within the first eight minutes on the offensive end, forcing him to ride the bench the rest of the half. FSU’s seventh turnover sent the game to its second media timeout with the Buffaloes up two. In the first nine minutes, Florida State had four more turnovers than made shots.

The most important player on the court early was Polite. He stripped Da Silva of the ball before converting on a mid-range jumper in transition to tie the game at 11. Osborne’s second dunk of the game, an emphatic slam off a M.J. Walker pass, gave FSU the lead at the under-8 media TO. Through 12 minutes, Walker didn’t have a field goal attempt, but played at a high-level on the defensive end. He forced 6’8, 269-pound Evan Battey into back-to-back turnovers as Colorado went 3:53 without scoring and turning the ball over five times in that span.

Walker drew his second charge of the game out of the timeout for Colorado’s seventh turnover in six minutes. A floater from Eli Paquet ended Colorado’s scoring drought of seven minutes, but two layups from Gray gave FSU a 17-13 lead at the last media timeout of the half. Colorado had nine turnovers to six made buckets.

Wyatt Wilkes splashed home a three-pointer for his first basket of the tournament, extending the lead to seven. Daniels quickly cut the FSU lead back to four with a triple of his own on the next possession. Both teams traded layups before Osborne hit two free throws, the first of the game for either team, to push the lead to six. The ‘Noles missed opportunities to open a comfortable lead at the half in the last minute. Osborne missed the front end of a one-and-one on the next possession. With the shot clock off, Scottie Barnes was stripped of the ball and McKinley Wright tapped in a missed lay-up at the buzzer to make it a 24-20 FSU lead at the half.

Despite having four combined points from their top three scorers and just three minutes from Koprivica, the ‘Noles escaped the half with a lead. The Buffaloes shot 31% from the floor and were 2-9 from deep. FSU shot 40.9% and were 4-11 from deep. Colorado had 11 turnovers to FSU’s nine, but the Buffaloes had four more points off turnovers. Osborne’s nine points and three boards led the Seminoles. Polite added eight points, two boards, two assists, and two steals. The ‘Noles held Wright, a three-time Pac-12 first teamer, to four points on 2-7 shooting.

FSU looked determine to get Koprivica involved out of the locker room after just three first-half minutes. The big-man got the ‘Noles going with a lay-up on their first possession of the half off a Walker assist. On the other end, Walker drew his third charge of the game on the Buffs’ first possession. A Walker deflection and Colorado’s second quick turnover led to the senior’s first points of the game, as he knocked down two free throws to quickly extend the lead to eight. Koprivica’s third foul forced him out of the game again, just over two minutes into the half. Five straight points from Batey, three free throws and a lay-up, cut the FSU lead down to three at the first media timeout of the half.

Out of the timeout, Florida State started to gain momentum on the offensive end. Two buckets in the paint from Polite extended the lead back to five. His second lay-up was the Seminoles’ first second-chance points. Polite made it three straight buckets with a wide open mid-range jumper off Walker’s third assist. A floater from Wilkes pushed the lead to a seven, but the Buffaloes began to find their stroke from deep. Back-to-back triples from Keeshawn Bathelemy and Schwartz made it a one-point game at the U-12 TO.

The ‘Noles got an energy boost from Sardaar Calhoun out of the timeout on a set-play from Leonard Hamilton. Calhoun threw down a one-handed jam on a lob from Barnes for his first basket.

A steal and heave from Nate Jack, who didn’t play in the first round, led to another one-handed jam from Calhoun. Barnes’ first basket, a floater in the paint, extended the lead to seven as FSU went on a quick 6-0 run. Koprivica converted an and-one on a strong dunk to give the ‘Noles a nine-point lead. It was also Batey’s fourth foul, forcing him to the bench with just over eight minutes to play. FSU led 47-38 at the U-8 TO.

After Gray missed the front-end of a one-and-one, Colorado cut the lead to six won Schwartz’s third three-pointer. Polite immediately responded with his third triple to give him a career high in points. A technical on Colorado head coach Tad Boyle gifted Walker a free throw, before Gray hit one of two to extend the lead to 11 with 6:20 remaining.

After a 10-second violation on Colorado, Polite knocked down his fourth triple. The three-pointer capped an 8-0 FSU run over 1:10, extending the lead to 14 and forcing a Colorado TO with 6:01 remaining. Walker’s first made field goal and two free throws from Evans extended the lead to 16. FSU led 61-47 at the last media timeout of the game. The Green Team Vipers entered the game with 1:11 remaining and the Seminoles up 17.

The Buffaloes tried to contain the Seminoles with full-court press, but there was no stopping the ‘Noles from their third consecutive sweet 16. Osborne finished off a transition bucket to extend the lead to 15, before Polite’s fourth steal and a lob to Walker pushed the lead to 17. Walker’s slam was the Seminoles’ seventh straight made field goal.

Polite led the way with a career-high 22 points on 8-12 shooting and four triples. The guard stuffed the stat sheet with five boards, four assists, and four steals. Osborne contributed 11 points and five boards. Gray also had nine points and six boards. FSU shot 52.2% from the floor and were 6-17 from beyond the arc. The Seminoles had just six second-half turnovers and shot 62.5% from the floor in the last twenty minutes. Florida State outscored Colorado by 14 in the second half.

Tonight was just the second time this season the Buffaloes scored less than 56 points. After tying a program record by allowing just 54 points to UNC Greensboro, FSU posted the best defensive performance in FSU’s March Madness tournament history, holding the Buffaloes to 53 points.

Before Leonard Hamilton took over in Tallahassee, Florida State had three Sweet 16 appearances. In Hamitlon’s 19 years at FSU, he’s taken the ‘Noles to the Sweet 16 four times.