NEW YORK – For about 15 minutes of the second half of their ACC tournament game against Louisville, the Florida State Seminoles played perhaps their most inspired and sharp stretch of basketball of the season.
If only it hadn’t come on the heels of a most difficult first half.
Trent Forrest and P.J. Savoy each scored 14 points and Phil Cofer added 12 as the Seminoles flirted with some March magic before falling to the Louisville Cardinals, 82-74, here at the Barclays Center.
Florida State (20-11) trailed by as many as 26 points with 11:35 to go in the second half, but, thanks to a sterling shooting performance, whittled that deficit down to just six in the game’s final minute.
By then, though, it was too late, and the Seminoles were dealt a defeat that left them feeling both encouraged and frustrated.
Encouraged that they mounted such a stunning rally, but frustrated that they needed it in the first place.
“You can’t get to the ACC tournament and dig a hole for yourself like that and expect to always pull put those heroic games at the end,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought we dug such a hole for ourselves (because) we couldn’t make shots in the first half.”
Indeed, for as hot as the Seminoles were in the second half – they shot 61.3 percent in the final 20 minutes – they were just as cold in the first.
FSU made only eight of 30 attempts from the field in the first half and made just two shots during the final 11:54 of the period.
The Seminoles were actually in decent shape up that point, with Savoy having just buried a 3-pointer that gave FSU a 17-14 lead and headed to the free-throw line for a shot at one more.
Savoy, however, missed and, from there the Cardinals took over in startling fashion by outscoring the Seminoles 27-5 over the remainder of the half taking and 41-22 lead into the break.
“(We) gave them an exceptional number of opportunities to get out and get long bounces and get out in transition,” Hamilton said. “And they made us pay every time we faltered.”
Added Savoy: “In the first half, we didn’t have any energy. We weren’t playing defense and that dictates our offense. In the second half, we picked up our defense and our energy came along with it.”
Spurred by their apparent position on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble, the Cardinals scored 11 of the first 17 points in the second half before FSU began to turn things around.
“We got open looks in the first half, they just weren’t falling down for us,” Cofer said. “The second half, they were just going down for us.”
At a startling rate, too. Beginning at the 15:28 mark of the second half, the Seminoles connected on 17 of 23 attempts from the field.
That run included three straight 3-pointers from Cofer, who is 14 of 32 (43.7 percent) from distance in his last three games.
His hot streak has coincided with an encouraging surge from Savoy, the 3-point specialist who after missing seven games with an injury has connected on nearly 40 percent (17-43) of his deep shots.
“I was encouraged that we bounced back,” Hamilton said. “I thought we played with a tremendous amount of energy and we forced them into some indecision and got some deflections and blocks, got some stops. But you can’t play at this level and be successful unless you’re playing that way for 40 minutes.”
While Louisville will meet top-ranked Virginia in a Thursday semifinal, the Seminoles are now set to wait for Selection Sunday, when they hope – and mostly expect – they’ll be included in the NCAA tournament field for a second consecutive season.
“I would say I feel confident enough,” Forrest said. “We just have to wait and see. Hopefully it falls our way.”