TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As his team rode the ups and downs of the early conference season, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton insisted that he saw signs of progress from the Seminoles.
Nothing like a successful rematch against an ACC foe to show just how far they’ve come.Four weeks removed from a difficult loss at Clemson, FSU returned the favor on Saturday in a 76-65 win over the Tigers here at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
It’s the second victory this week for the Seminoles (14-7, 4-5 ACC), who have won four of their last six and can even up their ACC record when NC State visits on Monday night.
“That was as close as we’ve had all year (to a full 40 minutes) of everybody buying in and giving effort and all the little things that we’ve been trying to get them to do,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, who earned his 250th victory with the Seminoles.
On a day when FSU promoted a free bacon giveaway for students, freshman star Dwayne Bacon lived up to his billing with 21 points and six rebounds.
Fellow freshman Malik Beasley added 16 points, which included a rafters-shaking alley-oop that helped steal back some momentum after the Tigers took a lead in the second half.
“Bacon was really good. He and Beasley are terrific players,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “They put a lot of pressure on your team. When you don’t run good offense and they get out in transition consistently, that’s when Florida State is at their best. They were there today.”
Indeed, FSU hammered the Tigers in transition, scoring 18 fastbreak points to just two for Clemson (13-8, 6-3).
That came in large part due to heavy defensive pressure that forced a number of tipped balls and deflections that the Seminoles turned into steals.
Senior guard Devon Bookert was at the center of that effort, posting three steals to go along with nine points, five assists and five rebounds. FSU grabbed 13 steals and took advantage of 18 Clemson turnovers.
“Today we maintained good defensive position, didn’t reach, didn’t get out of position,” Hamilton said. “But we got deflections that led to the basket for us. I think that was a high level of concentration.”
Florida State led 32-28 at halftime, but the Tigers soon took the lead with a 13-7 run to start the second half.
It was at the point that Saturday’s game started to share an unpleasant resemblance to FSU’s loss to Pittsburgh last week.
But unlike last week, when the Seminoles played a strong first half only to let a lead – and a win – slip away, FSU responded in force against Clemson.
Thanks to some torrid second-half shooting and a defense that forced the Tigers into some bad looks, the Seminoles didn’t trail for long.
Beasley’s layup with 12:07 to go reclaimed the lead for the Seminoles, and his 3-pointer a few moments later helped turn the tide for good.
FSU shot 58.3 percent from the field in the second half (48.1 percent for the game) and led by as much as 12 with six minutes to go.
“We learned from last week,” Bacon said. “And we know we can’t take our foot off the gas, no matter what the numbers are. We kept on pushing.”
Hamilton hopes that maxim holds true come Monday night, when the Seminoles a host an NC State team that they beat, 85-78, in Raleigh earlier this month.
A win over the Wolfpack would get FSU back to .500 in league play and largely erase the frustration of a difficult early stretch, in which the Seminoles played four of their first six ACC games on the road.
But although the Wolfpack had lost seven of its last eight games heading into Saturday’s contest against Miami, Hamilton cautioned against taking them lightly.
“Now that we’ve got a chance to play a couple games at home, we can’t afford to slip up and not take advantage of it,” he said. “… The challenge for us is to reenergize ourselves, refocus and understand that each game puts us back in a position where we can continue to move forward.”