March 9, 2017 - by

Going Deep: Noles’ Depth Wears Down Hokies In 74-68 Win

NEW YORK – Terance Mann knew the ball was coming his way.

Jonathan Isaac had just thrown a long, one-armed heave to Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Rathan-Mayes could easily have put in a layup to polish off Florida State’s victory over Virginia Tech here in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

But in the city of Broadway and bright lights, a little showmanship is sometimes in order.

So Rathan-Mayes threw back a pass to the trailing Mann, and the sophomore threw down a thunderous, two-handed dunk that emphatically pushed the Seminoles past the Hokies, 74-68, and into the semifinal round for the first time since 2012.

FSU will face Notre Dame Friday at 9:30 p.m., at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The winner of that game will meet North Carolina or Duke in Saturday’s championship game.

“We’ve got that connection, me and ‘X,’” said Mann, a Brooklyn native who had 16 friends and family members in attendance Thursday.

“If he’s on the break ahead of me, he’ll drop it back.”

And, as a result, the Seminoles (25-7) dropped the Hokies (22-10), who despite playing their second game in as many nights with one of the shortest benches in college basketball, found ways to frustrate FSU throughout.

But as the game wore on, FSU’s depth proved too much for Virginia Tech. After building an eight-point lead midway through the first half, the Hokies lost steam late in the period and, by the time they recovered late in the second, had too steep a hill to climb.

That’s thanks in large part to Florida State’s 12-man rotation, but also to the star tandem of Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac.

Behind 17 points and seven rebounds from Bacon, as well as 11 points and 12 boards by Isaac, FSU launched separate runs of 10-0 and 16-1 to break open a 15-point lead in the second half.

“There’s always a point in the game where we heighten our aggressiveness,” Isaac said. “And we can smell blood.”

Early on, though, it was Virginia Tech that looked primed for an upset run.

While FSU’s usual scoring threats sputtered in the game’s opening moments, the Hokies used a barrage of 3-point shooting to put the Seminoles in an early hole.

Led by Seth Allen and Justin Robinson, who each made three 3-pointers in the first half, Virginia Tech shot 7 of 15 from distance.

That helped the Hokies negate some of FSU’s size and build an 18-10 lead with 10:11 to go in the first half.

Florida State missing 14 of its first 20 shots from the field didn’t help, either.

“We were just kind of lethargic, we weren’t quite sure of ourselves,” Hamilton said. “But I knew that once the jitters wore off, we would be OK.”

Those jitters started to wear off right around the eight-minute mark of the first half, when Christ Koumadje sparked the Seminoles with a dunk that led to an 8-3 run and brought FSU to within one point.

The Seminoles went into halftime trailing by just two and, given the way they started, feeling good about their chances in the second half.

“I was definitely confident, especially after the first half, to be in that position,” Isaac said. “Knowing they had played yesterday and we have so much depth, to be down two at halftime, I knew at some point we were going to wear them down.”

Added Bacon, “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play at a crazy speed all game. They don’t have that. … They got tired.”

With FSU rolling 12 deep and Virginia Tech’s seven-man bench saddled by foul trouble, the Seminoles scored 10 of the first 13 points in the second half and took their first lead when Mann drained a 3-pointer with 8:49 to go.

As the Seminoles played more aggressively on offense and tightened up on defense, they built a lead as big as 68-53 before the Hokies rallied with a late, 10-point run.

The Hokies made just 1 of their 10 3-point attempts in the second half and finished 38.5 percent from the field.

“There was a period there when (we) got really excited and turned it up a notch,” Hamilton said. “Got good rebounds, got good putbacks, tip-ins, got some deflections and steals. And I thought that really gave us a chance to play with a lot more confidence down the stretch.”

And that confidence came in handy at the free-throw line, where the Seminoles made four of their five attempts in the final minute to preserve the win.

FSU’s fresher legs and bigger bodies led to a staggering 45-18 rebounding advantage. That includes 18 offensive boards that led to 16 second-chance points.

And thanks to strong efforts by Cofer (six points), Michael Ojo (six points) and Christ Koumadje (five points), the Seminoles outscored Virginia Tech 42-20 in the paint.

“I thought the quality of our depth kind of stepped up and raised its head in the second half,” Hamilton said. “We were fresher, played with a lot more energy.”

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