Looking to build some momentum heading into the postseason, Florida State instead took an ugly loss to a sub-.500 Notre Damn team in South Bend, Indiana, falling 83-73 in the final game of the regular season.
Florida State came out as poorly as they’ve opened a game all season. Lethal from three at the Tuck (42.6% on the season), the ‘Noles were shooting just 31.7% from deep away from home coming into Saturday and even that is warm compared to how FSU started this game.
On top of that, turnovers were plentiful (several on foolish attempts to force feed Tanor Ngom down low), layups were missed, shot selection was awful (Ngom attempting an early shot-clock three?), and offensive rebounding was non-existent. Defensively, FSU repeatedly lost shooters on the perimeter and displayed terrible awareness of cutters on the backside. It was an embarrassingly unfocused start and resulted in the Irish jumping out to a 19-5 lead less than 6 minutes into the game.
Coach Hamilton pulled most of his starters and inserted Wyatt Wilkes, Scottie Barnes, Malik Osborne, and Sardaar Calhoun off the bench. Those four quickly picked up the energy and allowed FSU to at least start resembling a division one basketball team. Calhoun and Barnes knocked down a couple of shots and trimmed the Irish lead to 10, at 21-11.
However, the turnover woes continued. Charges were whistled on back-to-back possessions, Balsa Koprivica traveled to make it three straight turnovers, and then M.J. Walker lost control of the ball two possessions later. By the under-8 timeout FSU was 0-7 from three, turning the ball over on 32% of their possessions, and allowing Fighting Irish shooters to step into wide open looks, all of which contributed to a 31-18 deficit.
Two free throws for ND stretched the Irish lead out to 15 and after a stagnant offensive possession by FSU, Notre Dame got another easy look at the rim as Dane Goodwin blew right by Ngom for a layup, bringing the margin to 35-18.
The beatdown continued as Notre Dame beat FSU to multiple 50-50 balls and the Seminoles tossed up brick after brick. Trailing 42-22, Nate Jack finally gave FSU their first made three of the game and it looked like the Seminoles might get a little momentum before half as the defense generated a rare stop. But Barnes was whistled for traveling after being hip-checked while coming down with the rebound and Goodwin promptly took the lead right back to 20 on a three from the elbow.
Calhoun built off Jack’s three with a corner three of his own, and then bailed FSU out of a broken possession the next trip down with another triple. But the damage had been done. Florida State’s defense nearly gave up half-a-hundred, while veteran guards Walker, Anthony Polite, and Rayquan Evans combined for 1 first half point and 3 first half turnovers. The Seminoles, playing for the chance to win the ACC regular season championship, headed to the locker room down 47-31.
Coming out of halftime, Hamilton made the decision to go small, with Barnes being the tallest guy on the court for FSU. The adjustment seemed to pay off early, with the ‘Noles beginning the second half on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 47-38.
Over the next few minutes the teams engaged in some back and forth basketball. FSU’s offense finally displayed some rhythm and flow, as Barnes repeatedly posted up smaller or slower defenders and finished around the rim. But the Seminoles’ defense, as has been a bugaboo all season, kept sending the Irish to the free throw line, preventing the visiting team from getting things down to a 4 or 5 point deficit.
Then a potential turning point in the game came as referee Jamie Luckie issued a technical foul on the FSU bench. It’s unclear what led to the tech—no player or coach left the bench area—but nonetheless the call was made and the Irish lead quickly went from 9 back to 14.
But unlike in the first half, the Seminoles didn’t hang their heads. Instead, there was a determined effort to continue to attack the basket and take advantage of positional length and athleticism around the rim and on the offensive glass. With 10 minutes to play, Polite stuck back in his own miss to cut the margin down to 9 points once again. But every time it seemed like FSU could close the gap further, ND either buried a perimeter shot or got to the charity stripe.
With just under 7 minutes left in the game, Walker hit his first three of the game to bring FSU within 8. A couple of defensive stops later, Barnes putback his own miss and the score was now 70-64 and the Seminoles seemed to have life. But Notre Dame blew by FSU defenders on back-to-back possessions and the lead jumped to 10 again. A dunk by Barnes made it an 8-point margin as the teams headed to the under-4 timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Walker was immediately fouled while shooting a three. But the 85% free throw shooter could only make one of the three and the lead was still 7. After a stop, Polite buried a triple from the elbow off a great feed from Gray and ND’s lead now stood at 74-70 with 2:30 left.
Polite then made a great block at the other end and FSU had an easy chance to cut the lead in half, but Evans’ bounce pass to Barnes was too strong and resulted in a turnover. Still trailing by four, Gray had another chance to cut into the lead but Gray, who looked gassed for the first time all season, just flat out lost control of the ball while dribbling. That led to an easy lay-up for Prentiss Hubb on the other end and that was essentially the game. FSU had a couple three point attempts rim in and out, Barnes was told by Luckie that he wasn’t allowed to clap and encourage his teammates while on the free throw line, and Notre Dame pulled away for the 83-73 victory.
Hubb led all scorers with 22, including 7-8 from the stripe. Barnes led FSU with a career high 17 points, to go along with 9 rebounds. Gray had a double-double with 15 and 10, but also fouled out and committed 3 turnovers. Walker added 12, but on a woefully inefficient 4-16 from the field, 2-10 from deep, and 2-5 from the free throw line, and the senior guard tossed up a goose egg in the rebound column.
With the loss, Florida State lost control of their own destiny in their quest for the hanging an ACC regular season banner for the second year in a row, turning the garnet and gold faithful into Louisville Cardinals fans. Should the Cardinals beat UVA, FSU would backdoor their way into the 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. If the Cavaliers win, they take the banner and Florida State falls to the 2 seed. Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, there is now essentially zero chance that FSU can rise to a 2 seed, and even a 3 seed appears to be drifting out of reach.