TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State men’s basketball team was 30 seconds away from what might have been a season-defining comeback.
Instead, the Seminoles were dealt another painful loss.
After a lethargic and disjointed start led to a 17-point deficit against Georgia Tech, FSU mounted a dizzying rally and cut its deficit to just two points with 24.1 seconds to go.
But the Yellow Jackets then made four straight free throws and the Seminoles ran out of time in an 86-80 defeat at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The loss is FSU’s third straight and places an even brighter spotlight on the season’s final four regular season games: at Virginia Tech, at Duke, vs. Notre Dame and vs. Syracuse.
The Seminoles (16-10, 6-8 ACC) visit the Hokies (13-13, 5-8) Saturday at 3 p.m.
“We don’t have a lot of room for error,” said senior guard Devon Bookert, who scored 15 points. “So we’ve got to be urgent, because we only have a couple more games left.”
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton warned the day before the game that the Yellow Jackets (14-12, 4-9) were much better than their record indicated.
And for more than 30 minutes, they proved him right.
Tech shot nearly 55 percent from the field in the first half, including 4-for-10 from 3-point range, to take a nine-point lead at halftime.
Thanks to a heavy rebounding advantage – the Jackets outrebounded FSU 32-25 and grabbed 12 offensive boards – that lead ballooned in the second half.
The Seminoles’ defense struggled to contain Tech’s guard combo of Marcus Georges-Hunt (27 points) and Adam Smith (25), and, on several occasions when they did get a stop, the Jackets made them pay with an offensive rebound.
Tech finished with only 10 second-chance points, but they came at opportune times. Twice in the second half, the Seminoles forced errant attempts as the shot-clocked wound down, only to see the Jackets grab the rebound and kick it out for an open 3-pointer.
All told, Georgia Tech finished 9 of 21 from 3-point range.
“One of our points of emphasis was that we had to keep them off the offensive boards,” Hamilton said. “They’re one of the top rebounding teams in the country. We felt that if we executed our block outs we could at least hold our own on the boards.
“We got stops but each time we got a stop they were able to go and get an offensive possession. If they had nine 3s, I would say three or four of them were after they had missed a shot and got a rebound and kicked it out and got a high-percentage shot.”
With the freshmen duo of Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon having another tough offensive night, the Seminoles had a hard time keeping pace on the offensive end.
Bacon finished with 10 points but made just 3 of 14 shot attempts. Beasley added nine.
In their stead, freshman Terance Mann came off the bench for a career-high 18 points and five rebounds.
Hamilton admitted that fatigue can sometimes be challenge at this stage of the season – especially for younger players – but didn’t want that to be an excuse for Wednesday’s performance.
“Philosophically, you can come up with some way to hang your hat. But in reality, these kids play a lot of basketball,” he said. “The bottom line is this is what they love doing, and we have to find a way to come out and lay it on the line every night. That’s life in the ACC.”
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.”