TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Every season has a defining moment.
For Florida State, it quite possibly could have come in the locker room at halftime, down 41-29 to No. 11 Clemson on its home floor.
“We had to get better on the defensive end, we needed to stop turning the ball over and giving them free baskets (too),” Seminole coach Leonard Hamilton said following the game on the message at halftime to his team. “We didn’t want to change our mentality a whole lot, but we needed to get some stops.”
The first half was one to forget, as the Seminoles turned the ball over 11 times, while also struggling from the free throw line, going just 9 of 15. Meanwhile, the Tigers nailed 7 of 16 threes in the opening frame. A 9-2 run for Clemson gave the visitors a 12-point lead as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
“We needed to fight, we needed to be aggressive,” Phil Cofer said following the game. “We knew we weren’t out of the ball game.”
The second half began ominously as Clemson rattled off 8 of the first 10 points of the stanza, drilling two more threes in the process to lead 49-31 with 18:36 in the second half. It was a moment in which the Seminoles could have folded, their season winding down with few opportunities for marquee wins left on the schedule.
Instead, FSU dug deep and perhaps played one of its best halves of basketball all season.
“Defense is all I can say,” Trent Forrest said on what changed the game for FSU in the second half.
“We got steals, we got stops and that led to easy buckets for our offense.”
The Seminoles stormed to a 17-2 run, behind stingy defense and a full-court trap that created all sorts of problems for the Tigers.
Clemson turned the ball over four times during the next four minutes, leading to easy transition buckets for Florida State. The Seminoles had completely altered the pace of the game, playing their preferred style of transition basketball.
“They weren’t prepared for it and it threw off their rhythm,” Forrest said of the trapping defense. “We wanted to chop away at the lead, we’ve been in different situations before and we wanted to focus on four-minute segments.”
CJ Walker, Braian Angola and Forrest each had key layups or dunks in transition after the Seminoles turned the Tigers over during the big run, cutting the lead to 51-48 at the 13:25 mark of the second half.
The rest of the game was played within single digits as the Seminoles kept the game within distance leading to the heroics of Cofer and Forrest in regulation and overtime.
Cofer and Forrest shine when needed most
An 18-point deficit just minutes into the second half provided Florida State with a nearly impossible task of rallying to beat one of the best teams in the country.
It was a moment in which FSU needed someone to step up and save the season from the brinks of disaster. The Seminoles, in search of wins to remain in good position for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, were looking for a leader.
Forrest and Cofer were up to the task, notching 17 and 16 points in the contest, most coming in the second half and in overtime as FSU pulled out the 81-79 victory.
Cofer scored all 17 of his points in the second half, keeping his team within striking distance throughout the period. His senior season has displayed an improved skill-set from the forward, but against the Tigers he was asked to combine them at a crucial time with the Seminoles’ backs against the wall.
“I worked so hard during the summer and my coaches wanted me to be aggressive,” Cofer said. “I think the way our offense is, it creates opportunities for the drive and kick and I took advantage of that tonight.”
“Phil wasn’t going to let us lose, he made some tremendous shots that were difficult,” Hamilton added. “It shows how much progress he’s made and how much confidence we have in him.”
Whether it was pull up jumpers from the elbow, turn-around baskets with a player in his face, or drives to the bucket, Cofer was brilliant in the comeback.
His back-to-back to scores, a dunk and a pull-up jumper, tied the contest at 59-59 for the first time in the game at the 6:59 mark of the second half.
The senior would make crucial shots from beyond the arc and in the final three minutes of the game to sink any mini-run the Tigers would make to close it out, setting up Forrest for what was to come.
Forrest, a sophomore from Chipley, Fla., dazzled in the second half and overtime, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the final two periods. Physical drive after physical drive resulted in points for the normally, pass-first guard.
“We needed him to take advantage of driving opportunities,” Hamilton said. “We talked about it at halftime and Trent responded very well.”
Forrest routinely got into the middle of Clemson’s elite defense, finding drivers for lay-ins or finishing himself. His highlight-reel, spinning lay-up with eight seconds left in the game tied the score at 70-70, eventually sending the contest into overtime.
In the extra five minutes, with the Seminoles trailing 74-70 and under two minutes left, CJ Walker buried a triple to cut the lead to one.
Forrest then took over the final 1:30 as he gave FSU its first lead of the night at 75-74 with an acrobatic baseline drive and then extending the lead to three moments later with another drive and score. His two clutch free throws with 0:05 left in the game showed a calm demeanor in a tense situation, pushing the lead to 81-78.
“The coaches and players trust me and it was something I needed to do to help the team, Forrest said.
“When he first came in (to Florida State), he was a little quiet,” Cofer said laughing. “Now he tells me what I need to do at times.”
The win moved Florida State to 18-8 (7-7 ACC) and kept the Noles in position to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament later this season. Next on the docket is a home match-up with the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sunday at 6 p.m. (ESPNU) inside the Donald L. Tucker Center.