TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s reserves gave the Seminoles a necessary boost in a close, disjointed affair against the Miami Hurricanes.
Two of FSU’s most experienced players helped to ensure that the Seminoles emerged with a win.
David Nichols, a senior graduate transfer in his first season in Tallahassee, sparked No. 13 FSU with a game-high 13 points off the bench, and veterans Terance Mann and Trent Forrest both crashed the glass for a put-back layup that sealed a 68-62 victory over Miami late Wednesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
“I thought our kids fought very hard,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We did some nice things. … Hard-fought game. It’s one of those games, you look back at the end of the season and you’re glad you won it.”
The Seminoles (13-2, 1-1 ACC) led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but saw that advantage whittled to two with less than a minute to play.
Needing a basket to stem the tide, both Mann and Forrest converged on a missed layup and sent the ball toward the rim for what would be the decisive score. Scorers initially gave the basket to Mann, then later made it Forrest’s.
A look at the replay suggests that both players touched the ball simultaneously. Regardless, Florida State got the play it needed to even its conference record and set up a showdown with No. 1 Duke on Saturday.
“We just ran a play that we know is very effective,” Mann said. “So, I knew we would get something out of it. We’ve been in that situation a thousand times, just poised and calm.”
Otherwise, the night belonged in large part to Florida State’s bench – which always figured to be the case against a Miami team that employs a seven-man rotation.
But whereas FSU’s reserves might typically be called upon to hold the fort while the starters take a breather, they provided some seriously significant minutes against the Hurricanes.
With Nichols leading the way, Florida State’s top three scorers all came off the bench. P.J. Savoy snapped out of a brief skid for 10 points – his highest output in five games – while Mfiondu Kabengele added nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.
All told, Nichols, Savoy, Kabengele and RaiQuan Gray were all plus-10 or better during their time on the floor. FSU’s starters, meanwhile, were all minus-1 or worse.
“That’s who we are right now,” Hamilton said. “We win games by committee, and each night a different guy steps up.
“I think you’ll see us be more connected and get better as the year goes on.”
Florida State held Miami (8-7, 0-3 ACC) to just 37 percent (20-54) from the field and allowed the Hurricanes to connect on only 4 of 18 3-point attempts.
Those numbers might have been enough to blow out the Hurricanes on another night, but UM made up its gap thanks in large part to a big advantage at the free-throw line.
The Hurricanes made 18 of 22 from the line – including 13 in the first half – compared to 8 of 13 from Florida State.
The Seminoles were called for 12 personal fouls in the first 20 minutes, which kept the Hurricanes at arm’s length despite having made only seven shots from the floor at halftime.
The steady stream of whistles didn’t exactly help either team develop much of a rhythm, either.
“In the ACC, that’s what happens,” Mann said. “When they’re in the bonus and they’re driving, you can’t put your hands in front and stop them. You can’t be as aggressive on defense. …
“So it’s hard to contain in situations like that. It was tough, but we battled out of it.”
Miami opened the second half on a 9-2 run and held a 40-37 lead before the Seminoles’ reserves took over.
Nichols, Kabengele, Savoy and Gray combined to score FSU’s next 14 points, with Savoy’s 3-pointer stretching the Seminoles’ advantage to six and prompting Miami coach Jim Larranaga to call a timeout.
FSU’s lead eventually ballooned to 13 points, and although Miami rallied down the stretch, the Seminoles never trailed again.
“When you play in this system, guys off the bench, two or three of them are going to have starter’s minutes,” Nichols said. “We’re 18 strong. … When you have a team that’s unselfish and willing to win, no matter what, that really helps.”
“I think this is one of Leonard Hamilton’s best teams,” Larranaga added. “I thought last year was his best team, and this team might be as good or better.”
They’ll get another test of just how good they are on Saturday, when top-ranked Duke visits Tallahassee for the first time in more than two years.
As usual, the Blue Devils are loaded with future pros and are among the favorites to win the national title.
Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, then, that the Seminoles resisted the temptation to overlook the Hurricanes and didn’t shift their focus to Duke until early Thursday morning.
“We have not (yet) talked very much about the game Saturday at all,” Hamilton said. “We haven’t earned the right to look ahead. We haven’t played well enough where we can be overly confident about anything.
“We realize who we are. We’re still clawing and scratching and scratching and clawing.”