SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The worst seemed to be over.
After falling behind by 14 midway through the first half, the Florida State men’s basketball team rallied and seized momentum after Devon Bookert beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer and cut the Seminoles’ deficit to three.
And then the second half happened.
Aided by a string of FSU turnovers, the Orange opened the second period on a dizzying run, scoring 16 of the period’s first 19 points on the way to an 85-72 victory in front of 22,056 fans here at the Carrier Dome.
Bookert had a team-high 15 points and five assists and Malik Beasley added 14 for FSU, which saw its four-game winning streak snapped. The Seminoles will look to bounce back Sunday at home in a rematch with the Miami Hurricanes (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
“I just thought we had a little momentum going into the second half,” Bookert said. “So I thought it would be a much different result.”
Instead, the Orange did something that at the time seemed almost impossible: It shot even better in the second half than it did in the first. Syracuse made 65 percent (15 of 23) of its field goal attempts in the second half and finished at 62 percent for the game.
That’s a far cry from Syracuse’s usual average, which was one of the worst in the ACC (41.8 percent) heading into Thursday’s game.
In fact, the Orange entered the contest as the only major-conference team in the country to not shoot better than 50 percent in a game this season.
But that changed in a big way on Thursday night.
“They shot such a high percentage it didn’t allow us to say in stay in the game,” Beasley said. “They’re fantastic at shooting difficult shots, but it was our defense – or lack of – that made their percentage so much higher.”
Syracuse’s ability to beat defenders off the dribble and make pull-up jumpers caused issues for the Seminoles.
But Bookert and Beasley each blamed FSU’s defensive struggles on a lack of energy.
“It surprised me because of the importance of this game,” Bookert said. “I thought that we would’ve played much harder than we did.”
Earlier this week, FSU said it planned to attack the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense while also looking to capitalize on as many transition opportunities as possible.
While the Seminoles scored 28 points off of turnovers and 36 points in the paint, a lack of defensive intensity limited their fast-break opportunities.
And given time to settle into their vaunted 2-3 zone defense, the Orange bottled up FSU’s half-court offense. The Seminoles finished just 41.3 percent from the field, their lowest output in a loss in more than a month.
“All the things that we had in our gameplan, for whatever reason, we just didn’t get it done offensively tonight,” Hamilton said. “I thought their defense was excellent. It kept us passing the ball around the perimeter.
“We had a very difficult time penetrating into the lane, their experience showed tonight and our inexperience showed.”
The Seminoles continued to be an enigma at the free-throw line, too.
After shooting 60 percent or better at the line in their last five games, that number felt to 54.5 percent on Thursday. And that’s only after bouncing back from a 5 of 11 effort in the first half.
“We missed enough free throws in the first half that we could’ve been up four or five,” Hamilton said. “But it wasn’t as much about what we didn’t do as what they did. They did an excellent job defending us, like they always do.”
Dwayne Bacon (11 points) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10) joined Bookert and Beasley in double-figures, but no one on FSU’s roster had a second half to remember.
FSU made only nine of its 26 field goal attempts in the final 20 minutes, and was just two of 10 from 3-point range.
“I thought in the second half, the difference was we didn’t let them have any open 3s,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “After a while, by the time they got an open one, they were not in rhythm.”
The Orange improved to 6-2 since Boeheim returned from an NCAA suspension. They’ll visit Tallahassee on March 5 for the final game of the regular season.
Boeheim said that while Thursday’s game finished with a lopsided final score, he was still impressed with FSU’s roster and expects a tougher challenge next month.
“We got them down and that’s it,” he said. “They’re a really good team and they’ve got really good players.
“And I know it will be a lot different down there.”