TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – With freshman Dwayne Bacon’s turnaround jumper from 15 feet with 15 seconds remaining sealing Florida State’s 77-73 victory over NC State Monday night, the Seminoles have a three-game winning streak and are .500 in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time in nearly a year.
Bacon scored 20 points and fellow freshman Malik Beasely added 15, leading the Seminoles (15-7, 5-5 ACC), who received contributions from virtually everyone who checked into the game.
As a result, FSU is heading into its final eight conference games with momentum following a 0-3 start in league play. It’s the first time the Noles have been at .500 in league play since getting to 7-7 with a win over Boston College on Feb. 18 of last year.
“We’re learning a little bit more about the level of intensity that we have to play with for 40 minutes,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That every possession is important. That attention to detail is very important. The little things, the block outs, contesting shots, the rotations, and giving tremendous effort.
“We’re growing in confidence. We’re making good decisions, having good shot selection. That’s a learned skill. We weren’t quite there with four, five new players. It’s not easy to develop that chemistry, that understanding. It takes time to work through that.”
Fresh off its drubbing of No. 15 Miami on Saturday behind Cat Barber’s 30 points, NC State (12-11, 2-8) refused to go away quietly in the face of a 12-point halftime deficit. Barber, the ACC’s scoring leader and reigning Player of the Week, scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the second half as the Wolfpack pulled within two points on five occasions, only to be rebuffed.
Each time the Noles found an answer, usually in the form of a basket from either Bacon or Beasley, who had 12 points each in the second half. That’s something Hamilton’s squad did not do 12 days earlier, squandering a double-digit halftime lead in a gut-wrenching 74-72 home loss to Pitt.
“I think we learned from Pitt when we had that lead at halftime and didn’t close out,” Bacon said. “In these last two home games we’ve closed it out big time…We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Bacon, on the heels of earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors earlier in the day, scored eight of the Seminoles final 10 points to offset Barber’s big night when it mattered most. His baseline drive with 2:26 remaining gave the Seminoles a 75-71 lead.
The Wolfpack missed their final three shots, but did get a pair of Barber free throws with 46 ticks to play before Hamilton burned a timeout to set up the game-clinching possession.
“I was just told to sit in the middle and find the soft spot,” said Bacon, who found it near the free throw line and delivered a high-arching turnaround jumper. “That’s what I did…It’s just a shot I’m most comfortable with.”
While FSU’s star freshmen continue to lead, there were contributions from all corners. Xavier Rathan-Mayes chipped in nine points and Boris Bojanovsky added eight points and nine rebounds. Fellow senior Montay Brandon enjoyed his most productive game of the season with seven points, four rebounds and five assists, while classmate Devon Bookert had six points and three assists.
Freshman Terance Mann added seven points and four rebounds as the Noles won the battle on the boards 34-28.
“We know our roles now,” Beasley said. “Quez, Boris, Benji and Montay – all the role players – are stepping up and doing what they have to do and that’s helping us a lot.”
That was evident to Beasley as he watched from the bench much of the first half after picking up two early fouls.
“I was talking to one of the managers and said, ‘It’s crazy that all of us have at least five points now,’” Beasley said. “It’s amazing to see how much depth we have and how much contributions we have from each player.”
The Seminoles turned in one of their finest defensive halves of basketball this season through the first 20 minutes, limiting the Wolfpack to 35 percent shooting from the floor and piling up the vast majority of their 20 deflections. That performance, reminiscent of FSU’s “Junkyard Dog” defensive days in 2010 and 2011, helped the Seminoles open up a 38-26 halftime lead.
“That was about as good as we have played all year,” Hamilton said of his teams’ first half defense. “I thought that we got deflections, we created indecision on their part with contested shots, rebounding. We turned some of our good defensive play into offense for us. That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year.”
There were three lead changes and a tie in the first six minutes of the contest before the Noles put together a 14-2 run, with Montay Brandon igniting the fuse with back-to-back drives to the basket. With Devon Bookert and Benji Bell sandwiching 3-pointers around an NC State basket, the Noles’ extended their lead on a runner by Terance Mann and Jarquez Smith’s hook shot from the low post for a 22-10 lead they refused to relinquish.
NC State briefly pulled within eight before FSU countered with a 12-4 burst which Bacon began with a dunk and ended with a 3-pointer for a 36-20 cushion, its largest of the night.
“The first half, their pressure and trapping, it’s kind of like PeeWee basketball, if you’ve got a good player you just go double-team him all the time,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “That’s kind of what Leonard did with Cat and we didn’t handle it very well. We turned the ball over. We had our forwards bringing the ball up the floor. We were out of synch and out of rhythm.”
The Wolfpack turned the ball over eight times as the Seminoles disrupted the visitors with backcourt pressure. The back end of FSU’s defense also created problems with Boris Bojanovsky and Smith contributing two blocked shots each. Smith’s pair came against beefy Wolpack forward BeeJay Anya on the same possession, sparking the Seminoles’ initial scoring run.
“They’ve got length at the basket that kind of bothers you at times,” Gottfried added. “Defensively they are as good and athletic as anybody we’ve played this year. Their defense really bothered us in the first half…We looked like the Bad News Bears out there.”
For the Seminoles, the next challenge comes Saturday at Wake Forest, where they hunt their fourth consecutive victory in an effort to get over .500 in the ACC for the first time since March of 2014.