TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dwayne Bacon arrived in Florida State’s postgame interview room wearing a replica of Larry Bird’s bright green Boston Celtics jersey.
After some light teasing from his coach, Leonard Hamilton, Bacon laughed and said, “Nah, Coach, it’s the luck of the Irish.”
Maybe appropriate, given that Florida State hosted Notre Dame here on Saturday afternoon, but hardly fair to the outcome.
Led by Bacon’s 21 points and one of the best efforts of Boris Bojanovsky’s career, the Seminoles played their best game of the season in a 77-56 victory over No. 20 Notre Dame.
And there was nothing lucky about it.
The Seminoles (17-12, 7-10 ACC) bettered the Fighting Irish (19-9, 10-6) in every facet of the game. FSU outshot the Irish (48.6-35.7 percent), held a steady rebounding advantage (40-35) and took better care of the ball.
Even better, they gave perhaps their strongest defensive effort of the season. The Irish, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency, shot just 28.6 percent in the second half on the way to their lowest point total of the season.
It marked an emphatic end to Florida State’s five-game losing streak and gave the Seminoles a boost of confidence headed into a welcome week off. FSU closes the regular season at home against Syracuse on March 5.
“There’s no doubt that we needed to feel good about ourselves,” Hamilton said. “This is a very important victory for us.”
Benji Bell scored 14 points on the strength of four 3-pointers, while Bojanovsky, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jarquez Smith each chipped in eight.
Bojanovsky contributed far beyond just the scoreboard. Matched up with Notre Dame center Zach Auguste, the ACC’s third-leading rebounder, Bojanovsky more than held his own.
Along with his eight points, Bojanovsky added nine rebounds and six blocked shots that stifled the Irish and often left Auguste visibly frustrated, despite his 17 boards and 12 points.
“I think their shot-blocking demoralized us,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “…They blocked seven (total). And they changed probably six. When you can’t get any of those (easy shots) that kind of make you feel good, God, that demoralizes you.”
FSU, meanwhile, seemed to get whatever it wanted on offense.
The Seminoles dominated on the perimeter – where they made a season-high 11 3-pointers – scored 20 points in the paint and also got mid-range contributions from the likes of Bacon and Rathan-Mayes.
And the offense worked in concert with the defense, converting 11 Notre Dame turnovers into 17 points.
“We played great defense. Outstanding defense,” Bacon said. “We moved the ball on offense. If we do that, we can win any game. We did that perfect tonight.”
In finishing off the Irish, the Seminoles flipped the script from some previous painful losses.
Twice this season – against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech – FSU squandered big halftime leads on the way to unlikely defeats.
Up 16 at the break against the Irish, the Seminoles were determined not to let it happen again.
“The whole time in the locker room at halftime was just speeches about not giving up. Not taking our foot off the gas,” Bacon said. “That’s what we did against Pitt, that’s what we did against Virginia Tech.”
But not this time.
After Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson started the second half with a 3-pointer, the Seminoles launched a quick 9-4 run that extended their lead to 20 points with 13:54 to go.
FSU never let up, but, with Notre Dame never threatening, there were plenty of moments for 7,819 fans in attendance to enjoy.
There was standing applause and chants of “Bo-ris!” when Bojanovksy checked out for a breather.
Then another round of cheers when senior walk-on Michael Saxton checked in with about two minutes to go. Then Saxton did his part by promptly draining a 3-pointer and giving an animated fistpump as he ran down the floor.
Then, finally, a full ovation as the clock ran out on one of FSU’s most satisfying – and unexpected – victories in recent memory.
“We’ve played moments where we played excellent, but we have not played this way for 40 minutes,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully this is something that we can continue to keep doing for the remainder of the season.”
There’s not much to that remainder, with just a home game against Syracuse left before the Seminoles head to the ACC tournament in Washington, D.C.
The Orange scored an easy victory over FSU earlier this month, but Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he expected a much more difficult test in Tallahassee.
If the Seminoles continue to play like they did today, it will be.