After three straight games of playing noticeably improved basketball, Florida State put forth a sloppier effort against a pesky USC Upstate Spartans squad. But in a type of game that might have resulted in a demoralizing loss four weeks ago, the Seminoles still found a way to walk away with a double-digit victory, 80-63. Perhaps that, more than anything, shows the progress that this team is slowly but surely making.
The game began poorly. Florida State committed three turnovers in their first three possessions (one was technically a shot clock violation, but the outcome is the same). Especially disappointing when you’re playing the 362nd (out of 363) team in the country at defensive rebounding. Getting up a shot on every possession should be a winning recipe.
Once they started getting shots off, good things followed. Matthew Cleveland sank a three from the corner, his 4th of the season after only have 6 his entire freshman year, making it 7-2 FSU and two Naheem McLeod free throws pushed it out to 9-2.
From there, the two teams more or less traded buckets over the next few minutes. Upstate’s Floyd Rideau, Jr hit a pair of threes during the stretch, while FSU received scoring contributions from a variety of faces. Defensively, the Seminoles weren’t playing poorly, but the deflections they were generating to start the game had fallen off. Add in an easy basket in transition after a poor pass from freshman Tom House and the FSU lead was trimmed to 17-14.
The Spartans got within one point after Caleb Mills fouled a three point shooter, but another FSU spurt that included a Darin Green, Jr. three-ball got FSU back in front 25-20. However, the Spartans were keen on making this a battle, and they were getting help from an FSU team that just didn’t seem to be able to get out of its own way on offense. At the under-4 timeout FSU’s lead was just one point at 29-28.
Fortunately, FSU had a response. The ‘Noles cranked up the defensive intensity for the final three minutes, registering several blocks during that stretch and altering a couple more shots. On offense, Mills and Cameron Corhen combined to score nine straight points and Florida State took a 38-31 lead into the locker room.
For the half, FSU shot the ball pretty well, posting 52.2/37.5/78.6 splits. At the other end, the Seminoles defense held Spartan shooters to just 11-37 from the field, a paltry 29.7%. So how is it possible that FSU only led by 7? Turnovers.
After only turning the ball over on 11% and 13% of their possessions in their last two home games, the ‘Noles coughed it up on 26.5% of their first half possessions against Upstate. And most of them were the result of sloppy play or poor decisions, as FSU filled up their “ways to turn it over” BINGO card. This not only led to extra possessions and shot attempts for the visitors, it also negated FSU’s advantage on the offensive glass, as many possessions the Seminoles didn’t even get a shot attempt.
Back-to-back finishes at the rim for McLeod gave FSU the second half start it was looking for and brought the dozens of fans in attendance to their feet. Cleveland added a bucket in transition, which was then followed by a deep three from Green and the lead was suddenly 47-33. This represented an 20-6 run since the 5:36 mark of the first half and for a team that has shown a tendency to struggle with halftime adjustments for much of this season, was a nice sign of progress.
After the opening 5 minutes the level of play dropped a bit for both teams. Jump shots weren’t falling and the refs were allowing a fairly physical brand of basketball that resulted in players finding it difficult to maneuver through the paint. FSU was able to make enough free throws and offensive rebound put-backs to keep the Spartans at an arm’s length. Five straight points by Green, Jr. stretched the lead back out to 15 just before the under-8 timeout, but a three ball by Rideau—his fourth of the game—cut the lead back to 12.
But Florida State stood strong and never let the lead get back under single digits. In fact, FSU finished the game with a series of crowd-pleasing dunks, including a thunderous tomahawk slam from Cleveland.
Cleveland led FSU in scoring and rebounding, posting his second double-double of the season with 16 and 10. The sophomore struggled to fill out the stat box earlier in the season, but has picked up his non-scoring contributions significantly in the last 5 or 6 games. His defensive rebounding, in particular, has been a huge lift for the ‘Noles.
Green, Jr. drilled 3-7 threes en route to 15 points and Corhen had a nice all-around game with 10 points, 6 boards (3 offensive), and a steal.
You can see the whole box score here.
Florida State travels down to Sunrise, Florida for a Saturday afternoon matchup against a 10-1 St. John’s team in the Orange Bowl Classic.