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FSU rides starters to one-point win over Notre Dame

Matt Cleveland continues his stretch of strong play.

Peyton Baker

Florida State and Notre Dame often play real barn-burners on the hardwood, with three of the last four meetings decided by 4 points or fewer (FSU won all three). Tonight made it four of the last five. In a game that saw both teams shoot well and both teams have runs, Florida State surged ahead in the second half and then hung on for a 73-72 win. Winners of three of their last four games overall, this brings FSU up to 2-1 in ACC play as they head into the holiday break.

First Half:

After testing out small-ball for stretches this season, the Florida State coaching staff decided to go all-in for this matchup. The starting lineup featured three guards (Jalen Warley, Caleb Mills, and Darin Green, Jr.), a wing (Matthew Cleveland), and the versatile freshman forward Cameron Corhen. We’ll see if this was predicated on trying to defend Notre Dame’s perimeter oriented offense or if this is a more permanent shift—my hope is for the latter—but for this game the move seemed to pay early dividends. Cleveland came out rolling, first jumping a passing lane and going it coast to coast for the finish and then, after a Darin Green, Jr. three-ball, the sophomore with an improved jumper tickled the twine on a deep shot of his own. Add in a bucket by Corhen and the Seminoles took a 10-7 lead into the first TV officials’ timeout.

Eschewing his typical strategy, Coach Hamilton elected to send the starting five back out after the media timeout. In fact, FSU’s first substitution did not come until the 12:37 mark of the 1st half (Chandler Jackson and De’Ante Green were first off the bench). Unfortunately, the Irish showcased some white hot shooting during this stretch and the Seminoles couldn’t maintain the lead.

ND started the game 10-12 from the floor, including 5-6 from deep. Some of the shots were admittedly lightly contested at the rim in transition, but several were a high degree of difficulty. This shot making turned a 4 point FSU lead at the 14:25 mark into an 11 point Florida State deficit by the 10:41 mark—a 19-4 run in less than four minutes. Cormac Ryan did much of the damage, throwing down a dunk, swishing a pair of threes, and making a couple of free ones.

But basketball is a game of runs and on this night Florida State decided they had one in them. Cleveland cut the Irish lead to nine on a nice finish at the basket. That was followed by an even better euro-step and finish by Warley in transition. Mills scored the next four, making the score 31-26 with 6:41 remaining, then Green, Jr. and Mills hit back-to-back threes sandwiched around a Notre Dame dunk. Corhen then flushed home an offensive rebound of his own, and then was on the receiving end of a pretty ally-oop from Warley.

Suddenly, the Seminoles found themselves with a 38-37 lead with under a minute left in the half. Notre Dame was able to grab the lead back when Corhen’s swat of J.J. Starling’s floater came just a touch late and was whistled for a goaltend. However, for a team that hasn’t demonstrated a whole lot of grit this season, going into the locker room down 39-38 was a positive sign considering how the Irish opened the game.

Looking at the first-half box score probably had long-time FSU fans doing double-takes. Four guys, Warley, Cleveland, Mills, and Green, Jr., played over 17 minutes and Corhen was on the court for nearly 16 minutes. Those five were the only players to register a point, rebound, assist, or steal for the ‘Noles.

Second Half:

Cleveland and Corhen came out of half firing, combining on a 7-2 run over ND and forcing Mike Brey to call timeout just 1:51 into the second.

Corhen stayed on the bench out of the timeout, but Cleveland maintained his momentum, hitting his second and third threes of the game. Then it was Warley’s turn for back to back buckets, beating his man off the dribble for two strong finishes, the second one being hoop and the harm. This gave FSU a 56-49 lead.

But like FSU in the first stanza, Notre Dame kept battling. The Irish sank a pair of threes with just a Tom House free throw in between (the first positive stat from the FSU bench of the game) and just like that the FSU lead down to two. From there the two teams engaged in back-and-forth basketball. The Seminoles had a couple chances to extend the lead out to a comfortable margin, but a couple of turnovers gave ND some easy baskets.

It was 66-63 FSU when Green, Jr. hit a much needed three pointer, just his second of the game, giving the Seminoles some breathing room. At the last media timeout, coming with 2:50 remaining, the ‘Noles led 71-66.

Corhen hit a nice jumper out of the break to give FSU a 73-66 lead, but from there future NBA guard JJ Starling took over. The freshmen went on a personal 6-0 run as FSU looked like a team that isn’t used to being in close games. A shot-clock violation on FSU’s final possession gave Notre Dame the ball down one with 6.5 seconds left. Needing to go the length of the court, the Irish inbounded to the corner and attempted to execute a little hitch and go toward the basket. But the pass was long, Green, Jr. nabbed the interception, and that was the ball game. Florida State escaped 73-72.

The starters were exceptional, doing essentially all the heavy lifting. Cleveland led with 19 points and 12 boards, his third double-double in the last four games. Mills and Corhen each scored 18—both on 13 shots—and Corhen added 7 rebounds. Warley was steady on both ends, scoring 9 points, dishing out 5 dimes, and snatching a couple of steals.

For the game, FSU scored 1.19 points per possession and turned it over just 8.2% of their trips down the court.

Starling paced the Irish with 20 points on just 11 shots.

Box Score

Up Next: FSU takes a 10 day break for the holidays before traveling up to Durham, North Carolina for a New Year’s Eve date with Duke. The Blue Devils, playing the first year in the post-Mike Krzyzewski era, are led by a quintuplet of freshmen who can dazzle at times, but are also vulnerable to standard freshmen mistakes.