WATCH: Leonard Hamilton discusses FSU’s win over Virginia Tech
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For more than 40 minutes, Florida State’s game against Virginia Tech in Thursday’s ACC tournament quarterfinal look like a perfect mirror of the first meeting between the two last week.
One team jumped out to a big early lead, the other mounted a frantic rally in the second half and an overtime period was needed to finally provide a result.
There was, however, one major difference. Because had they followed the original script, the Seminoles would’ve been on the wrong end of a blown lead and a hard-to-stomach loss in overtime.
But Devin Vassell and Terance Mann had other plans.
One a freshman and the other a senior, Vassell and Mann combined for a pair of dramatic, late shots that first forced overtime and then lifted the Seminoles to a 65-63 victory over the Hokies here at the Spectrum Center.
The fourth-seeded Seminoles (26-6) will meet No. 1-seed Virginia on Friday at 7 p.m. in the first ACC tournament semifinal game.
“Our guys have been resilient,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They keep finding ways to win.
“We hit big shots when we have to make them, we get stops that have been necessary. That just says a lot about the character of this team.”
Vassell finished with 14 points and Mann 10 as Florida State used 12 3-pointers and a healthy rebounding advantage (43-30) to overcome an otherwise pedestrian shooting performance.
The Seminoles shot just 38.6 percent from the field but made up for it by going 12 of 31 from beyond the arc. The Hokies (28-8), meanwhile, finished at 44.1 percent, but were just 4 of 19 from 3-point range and didn’t make a single triple in the first half.
“I think these are two of the hardest-fighting teams in the ACC,” Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill said. “And I think every time we play them it will be a battle.”
Twice the Seminoles seemed to be staring down a loss that few in their fan base would have found much to quibble with.
Florida State is already assured a place in the NCAA tournament, and a close loss to Virginia Tech – itself a no-doubt tournament team – would have given FSU at least one extra day to rest and recuperate before the Big Dance next week.
The Seminoles weren’t interested.
Trailing by three with six seconds on the clock, Hamilton drew up a play with four shooting options and trusted junior point guard Trent Forrest to choose the right one.
Having to be mindful of the clock and also being careful not to let himself be fouled, Forrest resisted the urge to force the ball to a more experience teammate and instead looked to the left corner and found Vassell, a true freshman who has had plenty of promising moments but nevertheless averages 4.4 points and 9.5 minutes per game, and is rarely on the floor during high-pressure moments.
Vassell, though, had shown a hot hand on Thursday afternoon – he’d already made three from distance – and, with a Virginia Tech defender in his face, he stepped up and buried one more to force the extra frame.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) March 14, 2019
“With the lack of experience with Vassell, I’m sure that (Virginia Tech) thought he would be the last option,” Hamilton said. “But he was open, and he’s a very confident freshman, and he knocked the shot down.”
Added Vassell: “As soon as we came out of the huddle, they were all focused on P.J., focused on Terance. I just figured, coming off a screen from Terance, they probably weren’t going to help (defensively). I ended up getting a great screen from Terance in the corner and was able to get a great shot.”
Mann would have his big moment just a few minutes later.
In overtime, Florida State again faced a three-point deficit and again had an answer. First with a corner 3 from Cofer – his third of the game – and then with a shot from Mann that might as well have come straight from the playground.
With the teams tied at 63-63 and the clocking ticking toward double-overtime, Mann drove to his right and, cut off from the basket by a Virginia Tech defender, threw up a falling, fadeaway jumper as his momentum carried him toward the baseline.
The ball bounced twice on the rim, kissed off the backboard and finally fell through the net.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) March 14, 2019
The Hokies were stunned. The Seminoles were not.
Turns out that off-balance circus shots are one of Mann’s specialties during FSU’s pick-up basketball games.
“He’s really good at getting downhill, using his body and just throwing up a really good (shot) with a soft touch,” Mfiondu Kabengele said. “And to see him do it today, I mean, it was shocking because of the situation. But to see it go in, I wasn’t surprised.”
“That’s not a shot I’ve never taken before,” Mann added. “Normally I take the bump and call a foul and take the and-one in pick-up.
“I haven’t done it in games, just because that’s not a good shot you want to take.”
WATCH: Terance Mann talks about his game-winner
It was good enough for Florida State on Thursday.
“I don’t want to take any credit for that, because we don’t really teach that,” Hamilton said with a smile. “But he makes those kinds of shots, and he’s done it time and time again over his career.”
And, as a result, the Seminoles will have another shot at the Virginia Cavaliers.
UVA is 29-2, ranked No. 2 in the country and advanced to the semifinals after slowly suffocating North Carolina State, 76-56, in the first game of the afternoon.
Florida State needs no reminder of how devastating the Cavaliers’ “pack-line” defense can be: They scored a season-low 52 points and lost by double digits in their visit to Virginia earlier this year.
“We’ve got to bring our hard hats,” Cofer said. “We’ve got to do the same thing we did today and play 40 minutes of a dogfight.”