TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Making plays when they mattered most, Florida State looked the part of the more seasoned team in Sunday’s 69-62 victory over 11th-ranked Virginia.
Shooting 63 percent from the floor in the second half and knocking down nine of 10 free throw attempts in the final 47 seconds, the Seminoles (12-5, 2-3 ACC) snapped a five-game losing streak against the Cavaliers (13-4, 2-3).
In a game featuring 10 ties and seven lead changes, the Seminoles’ victory may well have turned on two plays; the second of which led to FSU’s final field goal of the night inside the energized Donald L. Tucker Center.
“There were a lot of heroes,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Clinging to a 57-53 lead in the face of a Virginia run led by Anthony Gill and London Perrantes, Xavier Rathan-Mayes ran down a long offensive rebound following Terance Mann’s errant baseline jumper. Freshman Dwayne Bacon reversed the ball to senior Devon Bookert, who buried a 3-pointer with 2:24 to play for a 60-53 lead.
“I just had a sense that we needed the ball and I just tried to go get it for our team,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We slowed it down a little bit, executed our offense and were able to get Bookert a really good three on a kick-back. … We were able to make them pay for allowing us to get that rebound.”
Bookert’s triple proved to be FSU’s final field goal of the night, and the Seminoles were nearly perfect down the stretch from the line to prevail.
“It was real big,” Bookert said of Rathan-Mayes’ rebound. “Everybody was racing around. Someone tipped the ball and X ran it down. They were starting to get some momentum, so I think that really equaled it out.”
The Seminoles seemingly found ways to neutralize the Cavaliers all night; perhaps a sign of a team – which was 0-3 in ACC play eight days ago – is growing up.
“We knew we had to match their toughness and their energy because if you’ve watched them over the last couple of years, most of the time they’ve been the toughest team on the court,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said of the Cavaliers. “I thought our guys matched their energy, matched their toughness. We fought on every possession…
“Tonight we showed signs that we’re maturing. We weren’t quite as insecure and we played with a lot more confidence tonight than we had in some of the games earlier.”
FSU’s freshmen tandem of Malik Beasley and Bacon was very much in the middle of the first win over a ranked opponent this season. They combined for 35 points, including 21 in the second half, as the Seminoles won for the second time in five days.
Bacon led the Seminoles with 18 points and Beasley added 17. Rathan-Mayes chipped in 11, while Bookert and Jarquez Smith combined for 17 off the bench.
“Our problem early on was being immature,” Bookert said. “Now we’re getting closer to our potential because we’ve become more mature and we’re understanding the things we have to do to get better to succeed.”
That was evident in the closing seconds of the first half when the Seminoles came up with a momentum-changing play.
Beasley’s corner 3-pointer to close the first half pulled the Seminoles within three, 28-25 at intermission. The first field goal of the night for the Seminoles’ leading scorer, off a Rathan-Mayes pass in front of the Cavaliers’ bench, just beat the buzzer.
It blunted a 12-2 run by the Cavaliers, who had opened up a 28-20 lead with 2:31 remaining in the half on five consecutive made field goals, including three-pointers by Malcolm Brogdon and Perrantes. The Seminoles missed seven consecutive shots and turned the ball over three times, contributing to the Cavaliers’ run.
“We were resilient and kept fighting,” Bookert said.
Bacon’s driving layup with 2:13 remaining halted FSU’s shooting slump and the Seminole defense came up big, forcing a turnover with 11 seconds remaining – a five-second violation on an inbounds play – as the Cavaliers were trying to work for the final shot of the half.
“It was a great defensive stop that we needed,” said Beasley, who had missed his first five shots and turned the ball over three times in 16 first half minutes. “That’s what helped us and gave us the confidence to knock down the next shot. It happened to be me. I’m thankful that X passed the ball. It was a great pass.”
“That was frustrating because we wanted to get the last shot,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, afterward. “That was a momentum-changer, but that wasn’t the difference.”
FSU’s ability to convert on the offensive end in the second half, and its defense of Brogdon and Perrantes, who were a combined 8-of-30 from the floor, were contributing factors. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Seminoles only turned the ball over six times in the second half and converted 21 of 26 free throw attempts.
The opening half featured six ties, four lead changes and hot-and-cold shooting swings by both sides.
After missing their first five shots of the night, the Seminoles knocked down five of their next six. Jarquez Smith’s second three-point play of the stretch, which he completed after the 10:34 media timeout, gave the Seminoles a 13-10 lead.
Smith led the Seminoles with eight points at the break, including his jump-hook with 5:27 remaining for an 18-16 lead.