March 2, 2019 - by
Free-Throw Shooting Helps No. 18 Noles Outlast NC State

WATCH: FSU tops NC State, 78-73

Florida State 78, NC State 73 / Florida State Statistics / Florida State Quotes / NC State Quotes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Midway through Leonard Hamilton’s post-game press conference, just a few moments after Florida State sealed a 78-73 victory over North Carolina State, a reporter asked Hamilton how he felt his team pushed through an imperfect offensive performance.

Fair enough, given that the 18th-ranked Seminoles (23-6, 11-5 ACC) made only 3 of 13 attempts from 3-point range, committed 16 turnovers and were outscored on the bench for just the second time this season.

Hamilton, though, smiled and said that if this imperfect, he’ll sign up for it every time.

Mfiondu Kabengele scored 16 points, M.J. Walker had 15 and Trent Forrest 13 as the Seminoles held off a Wolfpack team desperate for a win that would strengthen their hopes for an NCAA tournament bid.

Instead, Florida State kept alive its bid for a top-four seed in the upcoming ACC tournament – which will likely be decided when FSU hosts Virginia Tech on Tuesday – and improved to 14-1 at the Donald L. Tucker Center this season.

The Seminoles are 48-2 in their last 50 home games and will close out their home slate on Tuesday.

“An imperfect offensive game that I can win, that’s OK with me,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to give the opposing team a little credit. … That’s just the nature, the challenge of what it is to be competitive in the ACC, night in and night out.

“That’s why I’m proud of our guys.”

Florida State never trailed but also never led by more than nine. And, for large stretches of the second half, the Seminoles held on tightly to one-possession advantages.

Seemingly every time NC State (20-9, 8-8) had a chance to tie or take the lead, though, the Seminoles turned them away.

Never more so than during the game’s final minute, when NC State’s Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer that made it 76-73, Kabengele missed a layup at the other end and the Wolfpack got the ball back with 24 seconds to go.

But with the game on the line and the 9,988 fans in attendance on their feet, Florida State’s defense denied a clean look at the other end, then sent NC State’s Braxton Beverly to the free-throw line for a one-and-one.

Beverly missed the first attempt, Kabengele grabbed the rebound then made two free-throws of his own to provide the final margin.

“You can’t really control making every shot, but we can control what we do without the ball – and that’s playing defense as hard as we can,” Walker said. “Make sure we secure the rebound, get stops. And it worked out for us today.”

Excellent free-throw shooting played a part, too.

With NC State playing high-pressure defense and forcing the Seminoles into misfired passes and contested shot attempts, Florida State in the second half simplified the offensive game plan:

Get to the basket and get to the free-throw line.

The former worked well enough, as the Seminoles finished with 36 points in the paint.

And the latter worked even better. FSU drew 26 personal fouls from NC State,  14 in the second half, and finished 23 of 30 from the free-throw line.

That includes a 17-of-19 mark in the second half while attempting to hold off the Wolfpack’s rally.

“Wow,” Hamilton said, when told of that statistic. “That was huge.”

“When games are like this, extremely tight, and referees are (calling it tightly), you’ve got to make your free throws,” Kabengele added. “Missed free throws are close to turnovers, if you miss both.”

NC State’s D.J. Funderburk posted game highs in points (18) and rebounds (nine) before fouling out late in the second half. Torin Dorn, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer, finished with 12 after being held off the scoreboard in the first half.

“I thought we had our chances, especially late in the second half,” NC State coach Kevin Keats said. “It seemed like every time we cut the lead, I thought they did a great job making a big play – whether it was an offensive rebound or getting a steal.”

Or a block.

The Seminoles finished with nine blocked shots – compared to just one for NC State – which includes four from Kabengele and three from Christ Koumadje.

Twice Kabengele sparked the Seminoles’ transition offense with big blocks that shifted play toward the other end of the floor.

“I thought we got great play out of our two ‘bigs,’” Hamilton said. “Twenty-two points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks.

“We’ll take that any night of the week.”

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