WASHINGTON – For a few brief stretches here on Tuesday night, the Florida State men’s basketball team looked like it might put a scare into Virginia Tech.
But each time FSU threatened to rally, the Hokies responded in kind.
Playing in front of what amounted to a home crowd – Virginia Tech’s campus is a little more than four hours from Washington – the Hokies took control by attacking the rim, and then held on in a marathon second half for a 96-85 victory over FSU in the second round of the ACC men’s basketball tournament.
The Seminoles (19-13) will return home to await their postseason fate, likely in the National Invitation Tournament. The Hokies (19-13), winners of six straight, advance to face Miami in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
“We had no answer for their quickness and speed,” FSU coach Leonard Hamiton said. “We showed moments where we’ve been a solid defensive team, but tonight we just had no answer for their ability to move the ball.
“That was our Achilles’ Heel.”
Devon Bookert scored 19 points and Jarquez Smith added 14 rebounds for the Seminoles, who had hoped that a deep run this week might springboard them into the NCAA tournament.
Instead, the Hokies snuffed out those chances by scoring the game’s first five points and building an 11-point lead midway through the first half.
And they did it by attacking the heart of FSU’s defense, with guards Seth Allen (20 points), Justin Robinson (18 points) and Justin Bibbs (16 points) doing most of the damage.
Finding little resistance on their way to the basket, the Hokies shot 60 percent in the first half and finished at 53.7 percent for the game.
“They exploited our inability to guard the ball. Period,” Hamilton said. “There were times we were in good stances but their quickness and speed allowed them to get past us and get into the lane and make plays.”
“We couldn’t guard the ball,” freshman guard Dwayne Bacon said. “As a team. Not just one person. As a team. They were driving the whole game, getting whatever they wanted.”
The Seminoles, meanwhile, attacked mostly from the perimeter, where they made 8 of 29 3-point attempts. FSU made one fewer field goal than the Hokies (28 to Tech’s 29) despite attempting 14 more shots (68 to 54).
After falling behind 30-19, FSU reeled off six quick points to cut VT’s lead to two possessions, only to see the Hokies answer with a 15-5 run that stretched their lead back to double digits.
Bookert snatched back some momentum at the end of the first half when he hit a falling 3-pointer at the buzzer that made it 45-38. And the Seminoles then kept their deficit manageable for the early part of the second half, even cutting VT’s lead to just five with 13:48 to go.
But Virginia Tech kept attacking, kept scoring and, with 8:25 to go, led by 17 points.
“Random things didn’t go our way,” Bookert said. “When we would start to get momentum, something would happen. Something difficult that we would have to get past.”
It didn’t help that the officials called a startling 53 fouls, 38 of which came in the second half.
That slowed the pace of the game – which already started nearly an hour late thanks to an overtime finish in the evening’s first game – to a crawl.
The constant whistles may have helped FSU by stopping the clock, but they also put a halt to any momentum the Seminoles might have built.
And the Seminoles struggled to take advantage of their opportunities at the line anyway. They made just 21 of their 35 free-throw attempts, compared to 30 of 37 for Virginia Tech.
By the time the game reached its conclusion, well past midnight, three players from each team had fouled out.
“It wasn’t the officials,” Hamilton said. “Sure, they called an awful lot of fouls. Some games they let you beat them up, some games they call the fouls. But the bottom line is we just didn’t do a very good job of containing the dribble.”
One more win would bring another milestone. Florida State enters the NCAA tournament with 39 victories and can reach 40 wins for the 40th consecutive season this weekend.
It’s a mark that, as recently as the end of the last month, seemed to be on shaky ground.
But after 12-2 record during the month of May, the Seminoles are right back where history says they belong: Among the nation’s best and playing at home during the first weekend in June.
“I’ve thought that all along (that we could do this),” Martin said. “And our guys will tell you that. I think that what we have to do now is not fall in love with ourselves. We’ve got a very strong field coming in here. We’re looking at one game right now: Tennessee Tech.”