TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On a night when points came sparingly for both sides, Florida State received the unlikeliest of assists to end a five-game losing streak against rival Florida with a 65-63 victory before a season-high crowd of 8,237 at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The Seminoles prevailed when Devon Bookert’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner glanced off the rim, then off the hands of Gator reserve Jacob Kurtz and through the hoop for the decisive points.
“At the end it was one of those shots that went in that you just shake your head about,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. “I’ve been on the other end of that so many times, that I’ll take that and be very happy.”
In the process of extending their season-best winning streak to four games, the Seminoles (8-5) scored their first win over the Gators since a 57-55 triumph in 2008, which also came at home.
FSU junior Montay Brandon, who scored 12 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, could hardly believe his eyes as the deciding play unfolded.
“I thought Bookert’s shot was going in,” Brandon said. “Then when I saw Kurtz go up I thought he got the rebound, but it just slipped out of his hands, I guess…I was looking at Xavier [Rathan-Mayes] and we couldn’t believe it. That’s a crazy way to win a basketball game.”
The wild finish was set up when the Gators (7-5) erased a five-point deficit after a pair of Brandon free throws gave the Seminoles a 63-58 lead with 49.3 seconds to go.
Kasey Hill countered with a three-point play, adding a free throw after his driving layup to trim the margin to 63-61. An errant reverse layup attempt by Rathan-Mayes with 30 seconds to provided Florida with another possession for the chance to tie or take the lead. Devin Robinson misfired a 3-pointer from the corner, but Kurtz collected the offensive rebound, passed the ball to Hill, who fed Dorian Finney-Smith for the tying layup with eight seconds to play.
It was the fourth and final tie of the night in a game that saw eight lead changes.
After the Seminoles broke the Gators’ press – which had produced most of FSU’s 15 turnovers – Hamilton used a timeout with 2.6 seconds to set up the final play.
“The best option we had was for Devin to get the ball in the corner,” Hamilton said. “He’s a very good shooter. He missed it and obviously they tipped it in for us.”
“I thought it was going in at first, then I saw it go out,” said Bookert. “I saw the ball go back in and I didn’t know how. I just reacted.”
It was a well-deserved celebration at the end of a grueling night of emotional ebbs and flows.
The Seminoles led by as many as six early in the second half after a pair of Brandon baskets before the Gators countered with a 10-0 run for a 40-35 lead with 13:35 to play. Another Brandon driving layup and a three-point play by Phil Cofer pulled the Noles even at 40-40.
Hill, who led Florida with 17 points, countered with a runner for a 42-40 lead with 12:10 remaining. It would be the final lead of the night for the Gators, who endured a 4:57 scoreless drought as the Seminoles ran off nine unanswered points for a 49-42 lead on a pair of Cofer free throws.
Florida clawed back to even the score at 54-all on a 3-pointer by Michael Frazier and a Hill layup off an inbounds steal, before the Noles countered with Rathan-Mayes’ turnaround in the lane and a Bookert 3-pointer for a 59-54 lead with 1:32 to go.
Rathan-Mayes contributed 13 points to the victory, while Bookert added 12 and Boris Bojanovsky chipped in 10 for the Seminoles.
Despite converting five fewer field goals, the Seminoles prevailed in large part by outscoring the Gators 17-7 from the free throw line, converting 17 of 25 attempts.
The finishing flurry of action offset a defensive battle which unfolded from the opening tip. FSU managed one field goal in the first five minutes of play, while the Gators’ first shot didn’t pass through the rim until 12:59 remained in the first half.
“I thought this game was played with a tremendous amount of intensity by both teams,” Hamilton said. “The margin of the leads was never very wide for either team…They did such a great job in the first half creating the atmosphere that caused us to be so indecisive. We turned the ball over 12 times in the first half…We didn’t execute very well and were very fortunate to have that little spurt at the end to go into halftime ahead.”
Florida opened up the largest lead by either team – 20-13 – when Robinson converted the first of two free throw attempts with 6:37 remaining in the half.
Rathan-Mayes’ 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining – FSU’s first connection on seven first half attempts – sent the Seminoles into the locker room with a 26-24 lead.
Combined, the rivals were 2-for-17 from beyond the arc, evenly splitting 24 turnovers.
Florida State will carry its four-game winning streak on to Mississippi State for Friday’s non-conference finale.
“This just gives us confidence,” Brandon said. “Our goal was to get to [win] number eight. Now we’re more confident going to Starkville to get number nine.”