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Florida State battles hard but falls to Clemson in Littlejohn

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That’s three straight ACC losses for the Osborne-less Seminoles.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Clemson Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off consecutive blowout losses at the hands of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, Florida State displayed much more fight and grit in this one. But while the margin was much closer, the end result was the same, FSU falling to the Clemson Tigers 75-69. The loss drops the Seminoles to 13-8 overall and now just 6-5 in the ACC.

First Half:

The game began with a familiar feel for the Seminole faithful. Florida State players looked hesitant and indecisive on offense, passing up decent looks early in the shot clock just so guys could dribble around for another 10-15 seconds and end up with a worse look at the end of the shot clock, or a turnover. And while Clemson, the second-best three point shooting team in the ACC, didn’t do a lot of early damage from three, the Tigers routinely got open looks in rhythm either off the bounce, at the rim, or at the free throw line.

Add it all up and the Tigers led 11-4 early on the back of a 9-2 run before Anthony Polite finally stopped the bleeding with a three. But Clemson came right back with an and-1 opportunity and the lead jumped back to 14-7. Wyatt Wilkes came off the bench and quickly made a corner three, then forced a turnover one possession later that led to a Matthew Cleveland dunk to make the score 17-12 Tigers at the under-12.

Matthew Cleveland had a chance to cut into the lead even further after being rewarded on a great back-door cut, but the freshman hesitated before going up soft and ended up missing the bunny. Making matters worse, the Tigers were able to push pace off the miss and promptly buried a three, stretching the lead out to 8 on what was essentially a five-point swing.

But the the one area where the Tigers were weak in the first half was taking care of the basketball. And Clemson’s sloppiness combined with Florida State becoming a bit more decisive in the half-court allowed the Seminoles to go on an extended run.

It began with Jalen Warley going strong to the basket and getting hacked, where the freshman made 1 of 2. Next it was Cleveland, quickly learning from his mistake a couple possessions earlier, getting back-to-back dunks on great cuts, the dimes being paid by Warley and Wilkes respectively. A Harrison Prieto pick-and-roll basket trimmed the lead to 20-19 and and it was a 7-0 Seminoles run.

Clemson ended the drought with a three-ball by Tyson Hunter, but freshman John Butler came right back with one of his own to keep the deficit at just one. Wilkes fouled a three-point shooter and then a transition lay-up on the next possession pushed the CU lead back out to 28-23.

But continued Clemson turnovers (one on a superb individual defensive play by RayQuan Evans) and FSU aggressiveness on offense allowed the ‘Noles to tie the game at 30 with 4:15 to go in the half. Florida State then looked to take their first lead of the game as Cam’Ron Fletcher pushed tempo off a missed shot but the transfer from Kentucky was whistled for a questionable charge call while gathering to go up for a dunk and instead the teams went to the under-4 minute media timeout knotted up at 30.

Unfortunately, Florida State just couldn’t seem to get over the hump. And as has been the recent trend for the Seminoles, their opponent went on a deadly run just before halftime. This time it was a 15-6 stretch over the final 3:48 that featured two deep balls and several layups and what was a close contest for much of the opening stanza turned into the largest lead of the game—nine—going into the locker room.

For the half, Clemson shot 60.7% from the field, including 5-10 from three, often getting wide open looks within the flow of the half court sets. Florida State, meanwhile was only 3-11 from deep and primarily stayed in the contest by doing the one thing they’ve done well most of the season—force turnovers.

Second Half

Naturally, any team trailing by nine at the break would like to come out and get a few stops early. But with senior leader Malik Osborne out for the season, 7’4 rim protector Naheem McLeod on the bench with a cast on his hand after an injury suffered early in this first half, and a host of fresh faces being asked to step up into more significant roles, the Seminoles defense looked more lost than a tourist without a map. The Tigers got easy dunks and open jumpers, starting the half making 5 of their first 7 shots and going into the under-16 with a double-digit lead. Coach Hamilton, searching for any answer he could find, even made a rare switch into a 1-3-1 zone.

Coming out of the media timeout the Seminoles needed a spark and they found one in the form of a Prieto corner three. Evans hit a deep three himself on the following possession and suddenly the ‘Noles were hot. And while Clemson continued to see shots fall, the rate at least slowed a little for their torrid start to the half. Butler and Caleb Mills then traded made baskets twice, the final one in the quartet being a Mills’ three and FSU cut the lead to just four, 62-58, with ten minutes remaining.

But similar to the first half, Florida State just couldn’t find a way to get over the hump. Their hot shooting cooled off over the next few minutes and with Clemson taking much better care of the ball this half (just 1 turnover through the first 12 minutes), the ‘Noles were unable to manufacture easy buckets. The Tigers had cooled off a little as well, but a couple offensive rebounds helped them increase their lead to 67-60 by the 7:47 mark.

With the minutes ticking away, Coach Ham decided to turn up the pressure and FSU defenders picked up Tiger ball-handlers as far as 90 feet from the hoop. The tactic worked, making Clemson look suddenly uncomfortable. Add in back-to-back buckets by Evans and Mills and the visiting bench was fired up. Florida State then had a chance to cut the lead to one, but Butler’s lay-up attempt rolled off the rim. In some deja vu, Clemson made a buzzer-beating shot on the ensuing possession and it was a four-point swing. With 3:33 to play, FSU trailed 69-64.

A jumper by Mills quickly cut the lead to 69-66 and then Mills went 1-2 from the line to make it 69-67 with 2:25 remaining. It seemed like FSU might just pull this off. But once again, the ‘Noles couldn’t get over the hump.

The frustrations began with on overturned call on a Polite defensive rebound that led to two free throws for Clemson. Down on the other end, Mills was tripped in the lane which confused Evans on an inbounds play and a 5-second call resulted. More free throws for Clemson and that was that. Despite not making a field goal in the final 4 minutes, Clemson was awarded enough free throws to close out the wire-to-wire win.

Clemson was led by 15 points and 7 rebounds from P.J. Hall, as six Tiger players finished with at least 9 points.

Mills paced the Seminoles with 16 points on 6-11 shooting, while adding 3 steals. But the depth of Florida State is starting to be tested and just one other Florida State player, John Butler, scored as many as 9 points.

FSU stayed in it by forcing turnovers on 21% of Clemson possessions, but shooting 48% from the field, 31% from three, and 62% from the line prevented the ‘Noles from stealing a late win.

Next game: Florida States hosts the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday at 12:00 ET. The Demon Deacons took the first game this season with a 76-54 blowout. The game will be featured on the ACC Network.