While the Seminole are slowly finding their identity on the offensive end, they made enough plays down the stretch to secure a massive conference win. Late game defense led by Cam’Ron Fletcher proved enough to lead the Noles to a “W.”
Florida State traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to face the NC State Wolfpack after an 18 day layoff due to issues with COVID-19. The Seminoles have dealt with positive tests within the program forcing players to practice individually and head coach Leonard Hamilton mentioned prior to the game how difficult it’s been for the team to adapt with so many first-year players. They came into this matchup with a 6-4 record on the season and 0-1 in ACC play.
NC State came out the gate with incredible ball movement and extended pressure on defense. They started with a man on man press, trapping the first ball handler so Noles had to rush their offense. Redshirt sophomore Dereon Seabron had the hot hand to kick off 2022’s first ACC game with a perfect 3/3 from the field and nine points. After a 7-2 start to the game the Noles picked it up with key play from their bench.
Although the Seminoles were understandably rusty, Anthony Polite knocked down a much needed three along with a couple free throws to keep the ‘Noles within close distance. When Hamilton made his first substitutions, newcomers Jalen Warley and Naheem McLeod took over to give the Noles an incredible spark. McLeod started 3/3 (with multiple rim-rocking dunks) and added one rebound.
The Wolfpack’s high ball screens and baseline cuts helped them find some easy looks from distance and they were lined up every time they got the kick out. They went 7-16 in the first half from three with two different players hitting from long range. With five minutes left in the first half Seabron had 14 points and five assists on 5/5 shooting. Freshman Trequavion Smith looked like he was practicing on a shooting machine, putting up seven threes and knocking down three.
The Seminoles played a pressured 2-2-1 off made baskets and moved into a man on man defense when the guard passed half court. Their disruption up front helped them get some two-on-one fast breaks and NC State was foul happy when they were left stranded. Polite, Mills, Fletcher and and Malik Osborne each finished the first half with seven points. The ‘Noles are grabbing steals on over 14% of their opponents’ possessions this season (13th in the nation), and this game continued that success. These steals led to easy points in transition and allowed FSU to grab some momentum.
While the Noles may have looked out of place at the start of the game, they had great energy on both sides of the ball and strong contributions from the bench spurred Florida State to a 43-41 halftime lead.
NC State’s Seabron ended the half shooting a perfect 6-6 from the field with 16 points and five assists, all of which was merely a prelude to his second half.
Smith kept the confidence to start the half, helping the Wolfpack gain a 47-43 lead and forcing Hamilton to call a timeout just a couple minutes in.
Both teams laid off the 94 foot pressure in the beginning of the second half and applied great defense at the half court. The Seminoles didn’t have much life on the offensive end but they suffocated the ball handlers on top to force the passes they wanted.
Fletcher continued to provide a big boost off the bench, but overall the Seminoles struggled to find rhythm early in the second half, with many possessions ending due to unforced turnovers. Osborne changed that with back to back threes midway through the half, putting the ‘Noles up 61-60.
From there it was a wild, back and forth affair.
Seabron carried NC State almost single-handedly, looking nearly unstoppable in the painted area. Meanwhile, for the Seminoles it was a full team effort. Cleveland was an absolute menace on both sides of the ball, cutting to the basket for critical baskets at the rim and offensive rebounds, while adding a monster block on the other end. Veteran guard RayQuan Evans made multiple high-IQ plays and scored 6 points in just a couple minutes deep in the second half. Fletcher showed off his defensive prowess and slashing ability, and Caleb Mills made a huge jumper when FSU sorely needed a bucket.
In the end, Florida State was able to do what they couldn’t against Syracuse and South Carolina nearly a month ago: make winning plays down the stretch. Osborne made a pair of free throws. Cleveland grabbed a crucial rebound and hit one free throw himself. With FSU up two with 8.4 seconds left, Fletcher sealed the win by stealing the in-bounds pass.
Seabron and Smith led NC State, with Seabron pouring in a career high 32 points to go with seven assists, while Smith finished with 20 points. But in the end it wasn’t enough for victory.
The Seminoles were led by a career high 15 points from Fletcher and a season high 19 points from Osborne. Cleveland’s fantastic second half might have been the best minutes of his short college career, as the freshman finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Florida State will stay on Tobacco Road for the next matchup before going back to Tallahassee for a two game home stand.
Next game: FSU takes on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem on January 4th at 7:00 ET. The game will be featured on the ACC Network.