Playing the back half of a two-game road trip, the Seminoles sloppy play from the final 20 minutes of the narrow win in Miami carried over to the opening 20 minutes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Florida State tried to mount a comeback, but Tech made shots down the stretch and FSU left with a 75-61 loss to the last place team in the ACC.
The game opened with the Seminoles getting three consecutive buckets right at the rim. Naheem McLeod struck first with a nice post-up that resulted in an and-one off a timely entry pass from RayQuan Evans. The next two possessions ended in relatively easy layups, first by Caleb Mills and then from Evans and right out of the gate it was 7-0 FSU.
After a 4 point possession by Tech (made free throw followed by a missed free throw, offensive rebound, and made three), Jalen Warley made it a 4-4 start for the ‘Noles with another basket at the bucket. John Butler made the Seminoles first three of the game making it five guys who scored in the first four minutes.
Unfortunately for Florida State, they weren’t getting stops at the other end. Slow rotations and weak closeouts led to a bevy of open looks from three and the Yellow Jackets were shooting with confidence. The first six shot attempts from Tech were all threes, with three of them splashing. They’d make a 4th before their first make inside the arc gave them a 15-14 lead with 12 minutes and some change left in the half.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles continued to use pace, space, and ball movement to find easy looks around the basket and a Malik Osborne dunk gave the lead back to FSU, 18-17. But the threes (off another offensive rebound) continued for the home team and GT went back up 20-18 before Wyatt Wilkes tied the game up with a 2 for 3 trip to the free throw line.
McLeod subbed back in and immediately made his presence felt. First he threw down a lob from Matthew Cleveland, then he gobbled up some left overs, grabbing a missed shot and slamming it home.
So why was FSU unable to put some distance between themselves and the home team? Turnovers. Coming into the game, it was Florida State that feasted on creating chaos, ranking 25th in the country in percentage of possessions with a turnover forced and 11th in the country in steal percentage. Tech, on the other hand, ranked 166th and 81st in those two categories respectively. But in the first half it was a complete role reversal. Through the opening 15 minutes, FSU turned it over on 30% of their possessions, including SEVEN steals by Tech. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, only turned it over on 13% of their possessions during that stretch, with the ‘Noles grabbing just one steal.
All this led to a game tied at 28 with 4:00 left in the half despite FSU shooting 12-22 from the field and Tech going more than five minutes without a field goal. That field goal-less streak ended in a hurry as Tech buried a corner three and then nabbed yet another steal that led to an easy bucket and suddenly the Seminoles trailed by five.
A couple minutes later, after a few more sloppy Seminole possessions, the Georgia Tech lead swelled to twelve points behind back-to-back threes. Then the 11th Florida State turnover of the half led to a circus shot by Jordan Usher and the scoreboard read 44-30. Mills made a three—just FSU’s second—just before the buzzer but the damage was done. The last place team in the ACC led the first place team in the ACC by double-digits at half.
Neither Anthony Polite, nor Cleveland played in the final six minutes of the half, as both guys were in the Hamilton two-foul doghouse.
Tech spent the majority of the half letting it fly from deep, attempting 19 threes in the first 20 minutes, making 8 of them (42%). Compare that to the Seminoles shooting just 2-9 from deep. Speaking of disparities, despite hoisting threes all half long, the Yellow Jackets managed to attempt 16 free throws in the opening stanza while FSU shot just 4. Toss in the 35% turnover rate from Florida State (a nasty carryover from the second half of the Miami game) and it’s a wonder that the lead was only 11.
Aside from a made three by Polite, the second half began essentially how the first half ended. Florida State turning the ball over and Georgia Tech making buckets and free throws off those turnovers. The only consistent source of offense seemed to be McLeod who kept doing damage on the offensive glass. The first one led to free throws, his second in the first few minutes (5th of the game) was followed by an emphatic slam. That dunk gave him 10 points, his first time in double figures in a ‘Nole uniform.
Cam’Ron Fletcher drained a three to pull FSU within 8 and after an empty Georgia Tech possession, the first-year transfer was calling for the ball on the perimeter again. But an ill-advised pass in the opposite direction by Warley quickly turned into Tech’s 12th steal. A free throw and a made basket later and the lead was back to 11. At the under-12 timeout FSU had made up zero ground from halftime.
The two teams traded baskets before the Seminoles finally showed signs of life. To make any comeback you have to string together stops and that’s exactly what Florida State did. Polite was a major factor in this uptick in defensive intensity, and he was also big in turning the stops into points. After a three-point play the old fashioned way from Cleveland, Polite drilled his second deep ball of the game—his first game with multiple made threes since going 2-3 on December 15th against Lipscomb. He followed that up with a tough runner in the lane, and then after a Polite block at the rim John Butler hit his second three of the game and just like that it was 57-53 at the under-8 timeout.
The ‘Noles would never get closer than that. Four consecutive free throws by the home team—two of them coming after the ref closest to the play was overturned on a jump-ball call—pushed the lead back up to 8 at 61-53 with six minutes to play. Polite hit one more three to cut it back to 5, but after that it was all downhill. Tech made some late-shot clock threes and FSU went 4+ minutes without a bucket.
In the end, the Seminoles lost the game, as well as their first place position in the conference standings. Making matters worse, the double-digit margin will hurt the already shaky computer numbers that are so heavily relied upon by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Jordan Usher led all scorers with 19 while adding 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Polite scored 11 points on 3-3 shooting from three, but the rest of FSU was a combined 4-14 from deep and the team turned it over on 26% of their possessions.
The Seminoles return home to Tallahassee to face a desperate Virginia Tech team on Saturday at 3:00pm.