Florida State gets back in the win column after one of their longest losing streaks of the past decade. Their high energy and effort led them to an 81-80 victory in a physical matchup against the Clemson Tigers.
Clemson traveled to Tallahassee having lost their last four games, just after defeating the Seminoles in their first meeting of the season. Despite home court advantage the Noles came into this game with 70% of their scoring gone and arguably their best inside presence out for the season.
The depleted Seminoles rolled with RayQuan Evans, Mathew Cleveland, Wyatt Wilkes, John Butler and Tanor Ngom to start the game. FSU’s leading scorer Caleb Mills was ruled out with an ankle injury that occurred in their previous matchup against the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were also missing Malik Osborne, Naheem McLeod and Anthony Polite.
Florida State came out of the gate with an automatic three ball in their first possession by Wilkes. After following that with an air ball by Clemson the Noles knocked down two free throws to start the game with a 5-0 lead. The Tigers scored their first points at the charity stripe, two minutes into the ball game.
Prieto was the Seminoles first replacement, checking in for Ngom at the 18 minute mark. Clemson’s Nick Honor found the basket for the Tigers soon after, but the Noles connected on a couple buckets from Evans and Cleveland to go up 9-4. Jalen Warley and Cam’Ron Fletcher entered the ball game after the first timeout, making an immediate impact on both ends of the floor.
Warely scored a quick bucket in the paint and Fletcher led an and-one for the Seminoles on a fast break extending the lead to 16-9. Clemson finally found their rhythm on the offensive end, tying the game 16-16 after a couple made baskets from long range. A media timeout was called with 10:46 remaining and the Noles garnered an 18-16 lead.
Cleveland and Ngom checked in with 9:37 left in the first half and the Tigers took their first lead of the game, 19-18. The Seminoles’s Justin Linder entered the game right after giving them just the type of energy they need to secure the lead once again. Warely was his replacement with seven minutes remaining. Despite a physical presence in the paint from Cleveland the Noles were giving up clear cuts on the baseline that led to a 28-27 front.
Clemson’s PJ Hall picked up right where he left off against the Noles in their previous matchup, collecting a game high 12 points on 4-7 shooting with 4:30 left in the half. The Seminoles gave up three straight defensive rebounds following the media timeout, leading to two straight three’s for the Tigers and a 36-29 deficit.
While the Noles were dealing with their largest point differential late in the first half they plugged in Wilkes and Prieto. Evans drained three key free throws with just under two minutes left in the half, cutting the lead to 36-32. Despite a monster dunk from Hall, Evans had the last laugh with a midrange jumper to end the half. Clemson led 40-36 at the half.
Both teams shot a combined 5-28 from three but the Seminoles problem was being able to box out and hold onto the defensive rebounds. Clemson had 11 offensive boards to the Noles one. Hall ended the half as the leading scorer with 14 points and Evans was just behind him with 11 on 3-5 shooting.
After a tough first half on the offensive end the Seminoles were searching for any sort of spark they could find in the second. They needed to focus their effort on fronting Hall in the post and making sure they secure the defensive rebounds so the Tigers won’t have easy second chance points.
Hall scored the first bucket of the second half with an easy layup in the first possession. Evans connected on a three ball soon after and the Noles were down 44-41. Cleveland and Butler scored six straight points following Hall being checked out of the game and FSU took the lead 49-48. Ngom then checked into the ball game as Butler picked up his third foul at the 15:24 mark.
Fletcher poured in a three with 14 minutes left, while Evans scored four straight points to put the Seminoles up 56-51. Evans had already surpassed his season high with 18 points at the 12:30 mark. Linder checked in for him after a pair of free throws and knocked down a three ball that lit up the crowd. With 11:11 remaining in the ball game Evans had 18 and Cleveland followed that with 10 for the Noles. Fletcher and Butler both had five boards, while Warley led FSU with four assists.
Clemson’s Al-Amir Dawes went on a solo run with five points after a timeout, pushing his total to 18 with four made three’s. After another three from Fletcher he dropped in two free throws to extend the lead to 64-58. Wilkes and Butler checked in with less than nine minutes remaining. As Prieto waited to enter the game, Fletcher kept up his high energy motor with a bully ball and-one. With 7:40 remaining in the ball game the Noles led 67-60.
Despite Evans hitting a long three with the shot clock running out, the Tigers cut the lead to 70-64 and Butler was forced to sit down with four fouls. FSU’s short bench came up to hurt them late in the half as Clemson scored yet again with a couple Seminoles breathing heavy. Butler and Ngom entered the game with 5:29 left in the game as Clemson and Florida State were both in the bonus.
Cleveland put the Noles up 73-72 with a jumper off the baseline and Fletcher’s aggressive play had him at the line shooting two as the Seminoles called a timeout. Hall tied the game at 74 with 3:38 remaining and the momentum was on the Tigers side. He then poured in two free throws with 1:24 remaining to put the Tigers up 78-74.
Evans had the crowd on their feet as he dropped in an and-one with 14.4 remaining to put the Noles up 81-80. After three straight timeouts called by both squads the Seminoles held Hall to a pass in the corner that the Tigers ultimately missed.
Evans ushered the Noles with a career high 28 points and four assists while Fletcher also put together a career game scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Hall led all scorers with a career high 28 points, shooting 8-13 from the field.
Florida State advances to 14-11 on the season with a 7-8 conference record and 9-4 record at home. Despite getting back in the win column the Noles will likely still rely on their play in the ACC tournament to see if there’s any March Madness hopes.
Next game: FSU travels to Duke University this Saturday for their final matchup against legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The game will be featured on ESPN at 6:00 ET. The Blue Devils are currently 21-4 on the season and 13-2 at home.