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FSU basketball bounces back for much-needed win over Louisville

Five straight wins over the Cardinals.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Tallahassee, FL- Florida State basketball (8-5, 2-2 ACC) bounced back with a much-needed win over the Louisville Cardinals (10-5, 4-1 ACC) by a score of 79-70. After an offensive struggle at Wake Forest earlier in the week, the Seminoles found offensive rhythm in the first half behind Caleb Mills’ 23 first-half points. Freshman Matthew Cleveland (17 points, 7-8 shooting) made the crucial baskets late to help FSU notch the win in crunch time. The Seminoles shot 45.8% from the floor and turned the ball over just six times.

Florida State has now won five straight over Louisville. Five straight victories against the Cardinals is a series best for FSU. Leonard Hamilton has now won six straight matchups against Louisville head coach Chris Mack (dating back to FSU’s 2018 NCAA Tournament win over Xavier).

The Cardinals got off to a quick start with buckets on their first two possessions to open with a 4-0 lead. FSU got on the board with two free throws from Caleb Mills on their third possession. Noah Locke hit the game’s first three-pointer to put UL up 7-2. After FSU missed their first six shots, Anthony Polite made the first basket three minutes into the game. After the basket, a trio of Seminoles were subbed in, including Naheem McLeod and Matthew Cleveland. McLeod swatted a layup off the board to create a transition bucket for Cleveland and bring the Tucker Center to life.

FSU kept the pace up as Mills ran the court to make the Seminoles’ third straight layup. Mills penetrated the paint on the following possession and found Wyatt Wilkes open in the corner for the Seminoles’ first triple. The ‘Noles led 11-9 at the first media timeout.

McLeod made an early difference in the paint. He hit one of two free throws for his first point, before Wilkes found him for a dunk on the following possession. The Cardinals couldn’t keep the 7’4 center from dominating the glass. McLeod got another dunk off a put-back, his second offensive board of the possession. FSU and Louisville were tied at 16 at the under-12 timeout.

A triple by Mason Faulkner put the Cardinals back on top, but Mills responded with a triple of his own moments later. It was Mills’ second straight basket after he banked in a step-back jumper on the prior trip down the court. Malik Osborne stripped Faulkner of the ball on a drive and found Mills in transition for another bucket. After Locke’s second triple, the Houston transfer made another layup. After going 2-13 at Wake Forest, Mills started an efficient 5-8 from the field with 13 points in the first 12 minutes.

A three-pointer from John Butler gave FSU a 28-26 lead at the U-8 TO. Through 13 minutes, FSU had just two turnovers. Out of the timeout, Locke and Mills traded baskets again. On the following possession, Mills hit a corner triple with a Cardinal right in his face, making him seven for his last seven. A pair of free throws by Mills gave him 20 points just 15 minutes in. FSU led 35-33 at the final media timeout of the half.

Out of the timeout, the Mills show continued. He hit a triple to eclipse his season high with three minutes still remaining in the half. Cleveland kept the energy in the Tucker Center as he skied high for an alley-oop jam off a picture-perfect pass from Polite. A floater by the freshman put FSU up seven with 2:16 remaining in the half as Chris Mack called his first timeout.

FSU’s lead extended to 10 on a Jalen Warley three-pointer. A pump fake and drive by Polite forced the defense into the paint and left Warley wide open in the corner for his third triple of the season. Wilkes responded to a three-pointer by Eli Ellis with his second triple.

The Seminoles entered the locker room with a 50-40 lead. After starting 0-6 from the field, the ‘Noles made 19 of their final 30 shots to enter half with a 52.8% field goal percentage. FSU made their last three triples of the half and were 7-16 from beyond the arc in the half. UL was 45% from the field and 5-11 from three. The Seminoles had just two turnovers in the first half, a season low. Mills’ 23 first half points were the most by a Seminole since Xavier Rathan-Mayes in February of 2015.

Both teams came out of the locker rooms slow. Neither team scored until Osborne’s jumper nearly three minutes into the half. Second chance points from Butler gave the ‘Noles a 14-point lead at the first timeout of the half. The Cardinals started the second half scoreless through the first four minutes.

Matt Cross hit a three-pointer out of the timeout to get UL on the board in the half. FSU’s offense got sloppy over the next few possessions. McLeod missed two free throws and air-balled a hook shot. A turnover led to a transition bucket for Louisville, which cut FSU’s lead back to single digits. Leonard Hamilton called a timeout as FSU was on a scoring drought of three-plus minutes.

Cleveland stopped the scoring drought with a tough finish off a Warley assist. Louisville responded with two second chance buckets by Sydney Curry and a corner three by Dre Davis to cut the lead to six. A 7-0 Louisville run trimmed FSU’s lead to four at the U12 TO.

Out of the timeout, Wilkes missed back-to-back free throws. The ‘Noles missed their first six free throws of the half and had just six second-half points through 10 minutes. Mack took his second timeout as two UL free throws cut the lead to three with 8:23 remaining. The Seminoles hadn’t made a field goal since the 12:51 mark and were 1 for their last 10.

FSU’s free throw struggles continued after Mack’s timeout. Osborne made a pair to push the lead to five, but Mills went 0-2 from the line with a chance to extend the lead to seven. Mills rebounded with a step-back jumper for his first points of the second half. It was FSU’s first made field goal in six-plus minutes. A layup by Faulkner cut the lead to three. After a layup by Mills rolled off the rim, Faulkner hit one of two free throws to trim the lead to two with 5:30 remaining.

FSU’s veterans stopped the run of poor free throw shooting. With the Seminoles in the double bonus, Polite and Osborne each went 2-2 from the line. Warley drove hard and hit a floater in the paint to extend Florida State’s lead back to six. Polite responded to a second chance Cardinals’ bucket with a strong layup. The Cardinals got a pair of open looks from beyond the arc, but were unable to make. On the other end, Cleveland let go of a three-point heave with a second left on the shot clock and it fell. The freshman’s triple gave the Seminoles a nine-point lead with 1:51 remaining.

Faulkner made another pair of free throws out of the final media timeout. Cleveland had an immediate response, as he had a wide open slam off a pass from Osborne.

After a layup by Curry, Mack called his third timeout, as the Cardinals trailed by seven with 1:16 remaining. The ‘Noles fouled Samuell Williamson at the rim, but he missed two crucial free throws. Mills went 2-2 at the line on the other end, pushing FSU’s lead to ten with 53.4 seconds remaining.

FSU notables

Mills: 27 pts (9-16 FG), 4 reb — Tied career high points

Cleveland: 17 pts (7-8 FG), 5 reb — Tied career high points

Polite: 8 pts, 8 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl

Game thread

Box score

Up next: FSU will be back at home on Tuesday, January 11 to face the Miami Hurricanes. First tip from the Tucker Center is scheduled for 8:00 PM. The game will be aired on ACC Network.