TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State basketball team made a little history Sunday at the Donald L. Tucker Center, and there was no shortage of contributing factors to the 93-78 victory over Virginia Tech.
Terance Mann scored a career-high 22 points but he excitedly spoke afterward about the contributions from the bench, which produced 35 points as the No. 12 Seminoles (15-1) improved to 3-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time in 26 years of league play by turning back the No. 21 Hokies (12-3, 1-2 ACC).
“They’re amazing,” Mann said. “They’re what we need. They’re why we’re here, really. They come in off the bench and bring all that energy, scoring, defense; they bring everything. They’re like a second starting unit and it’s what we love and what we need.”
In addition to matching the school record with their 11th consecutive victory, the Noles recorded their third win – and second consecutive – over a nationally ranked opponent this season. They will carry that momentum into Tuesday night’s home showdown No. 8 Duke (8 p.m.), which will be the third of six consecutive games against top 25 opponents.
“Tonight was just a game where they were a little short-handed,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said, noting the Hokies played without guard Seth Allen. “We were able to sustain effort. They had some foul trouble…We beat a very good basketball team that was just a little short-handed.”
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams was not nearly as guarded in his evaluation of Hamilton’s squad.
“I think this is the best team he’s ever had,” said Williams, whose team has dropped two straight after opening ACC play with a win over Duke. “They can play a lot of different ways. I don’t necessarily look at it as a platoon. If you are platooning there are obviously a lot of different options. I just think they’re ultra-talented.”
The Noles and Hokies spent the first eight minutes trading baskets and lead changes – there were seven – before FSU turned up the heat on the defensive end and sprinted away to a 48-37 halftime lead.
Trailing 20-16 following Ahmed Hill’s 3-pointer at 12:36, FSU held Virginia Tech scoreless for nearly four minutes. Back-to-back baskets by Seminole reserves Jarquez Smith and Christ Koumadje knotted the score. The 7-foot-4 Koumadje triggered the go-ahead score by grabbing a Hill lob attempt from the air and feeding Bacon for a runout layup and a 22-20 lead with 9:48 to play in the first half.
Though the Hokies briefly forged a tie on a pair of Zach LeDay free throws, they never regained their early offensive flow. A Bacon runner and Mann’s second 3-pointer of the game restored order as Virginia Tech never had a possession with a chance to tie or take the lead the rest of the way.
A pair of three-pointers by PJ Savoy, who had 11 points in seven minutes of action, enabled the Noles to maintain their cushion heading to the locker room, but it was FSU’s depth and defensive intensity had everything to do with the Hokies’ demise.
Virginia Tech was just 6-of-17 from the floor after knocking down seven of its first 10 attempts and further hurt its cause with eight turnovers over the final 12 minutes of the half. Not only did the Noles turn 10 first half Hokie turnovers into 15 points, they also outscored their visitors 13-4 in fastbreak points.
“If your offense is not helping your defense, that means your offense is hurting your defense and live-ball turnovers definitely do that,” Williams said. “They’re just so aggressive defensively. They hawk the ball. Off the ball, their length for sure maybe hurries shots.”
The Hokies came into the game leading the ACC in three-point field goal percentage and averaging nine a game from beyond the arc, made just 4-of-15.
It certainly didn’t hurt to have fresh legs on defense as the Noles deployed 13 different players over the course of the game – 10 who recorded double-digit minutes – while Virginia Tech played just six players 10 or more minutes.
“We’re so deep and all of the guys that are playing minutes bring a different type of energy and we know that once that person comes in, we have that expectation to bring energy to the table,” said Smith, who scored 12 points, blocked two shots and snared four rebounds in 17 minutes of reserve work. “We know they’re going to do it.
“The guys on the first wave [of reserves] take pride in bringing more energy, once they’ve been worn down by the first group. We try to rev it up and once we get tired, we’ve got another group coming back in to pick up right where we left off.”
In addition to Smith, Savoy added 11 points off the bench, while CJ Walker pitched in seven more.
Bacon, the reigning ACC Player of the Week, extended his streak of double-digit scoring games to 25 games with 17 points. Freshman Jonathan Isaac pitched in 13 points and eight rebounds; one shy of Mann’s game and career-high matching nine boards.
Trailing 11 at the break, the Hokies only once whittled the deficit to single digits in the second half. Ty Outlaw’s dunk off a turnover cut the margin to 55-47 with 14:54 to play, but the Noles countered with a reserve-led 19-8 run over the next six-plus minutes to salt the victory away.
“We were able to put some fresh guys in late in the second half that gave us a tremendous amount of energy, got some steals, got a couple baskets and kept that momentum going,” Hamilton said.
As for his teams’ momentum – and record-setting start to the season – Hamilton wasn’t willing to revel in its accomplishments.
“I’ve got to keep things in perspective,” said the 15-year FSU veteran coach. “In order for these three games to mean something, we’ve got to continue winning. No one is going to the NCAA Tournament winning only three conference games, so I realize we still have a lot of work to do.”