TALLAHASSEE – Newly-anointed Florida State football coach Mike Norvell will have to wait a few months for his first opportunity to beat Clemson, but he’s off to a good start when it comes to energizing the Seminole fan base.
Leonard Hamilton’s 17th-ranked basketball team followed Norvell’s inspiring halftime address to the Donald L. Tucker Center crowd on Sunday with a rousing second half performance against Clemson. The Noles erased a six-point deficit with a 10-0 opening run, sprinting away to a 72-53 victory in their ACC home-opener.
The Noles (8-2, 1-1 ACC) knocked down 11-of-18 second half 3-point shots and put the Tigers (5-4, 0-2) on lock down defensively, forcing them to misfire on 20 of 27 shot attempts.
Opting to go with a smaller lineup in the second half, FSU followed its opening surge to erase a 33-27 halftime deficit with runs of 7-0, 9-0 and 9-0. When the dust settled the Noles had outscored the Tigers 45-20 in the second half.
“To hold them to 20 points in the second half says a lot about our guys’ effort, determination and commitment to wanting to go out and get stops,” Hamilton said.
“We really struggled once the momentum went against us,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “I just don’t think we responded very well. They turned it up defensively and were very good. Once they get momentum and start making a few 3s it becomes very difficult…
“I think out poor offense took away a lot of our energy. We let out offense dictate our attitude. Our hunger wasn’t as good and then they played well; they played extremely well.”
Devin Vassell led the Noles with 14 points and Anthony Polite drilled a career-high four 3-pointers in the second half on the way to 12 points. M.J. Walker shook off an 0-for-4 shooting start to finished with 11 points, while freshman Patrick Williams and senior Trent Forrest added nine each.
Williams’ putback basket at the 17:37 mark of the second half gave the Noles their first lead since the opening basket of the game at 35-33.
Vassell, who carried the Noles in an uneven opening half with nine points, sparked FSU’s second run with a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper for a 47-38 advantage that the Tigers never threatened. The sophomore guard did most of his second half damage on the opposite end of the floor, with a career-highs in rebounds (nine) and blocked shots (three).
“We really focus on the defensive end, but when you start getting confidence on the offensive end it helps us out on both ends,” Vassell said.
Polite was the beneficiary on the offensive end, offering up a catch-and-shoot barrage as the Noles repeatedly dribbled into the teeth of the Clemson defense and pitched the ball out for open looks.
“We were a lot more aggressive attacking the paint and it definitely made it a lot easier for our shooters to just catch the ball and shoot,” Polite said. “Offensively, it was just a lot smoother.”
Hamilton was clearly pleased with the way things turned around after intermission.
“Our ability to drive and kick gave us a lot more opportunities,” he said. “Our crisp ball movement gave us cleaner looks. In the second half the ball didn’t stick as much and I thought it really created more movement for our players and created some indecision on their part defensively.”
The second half was in stark contrast to the first, when the Noles labored offensively. FSU missed 19 of 29 first half shots, including 10 from beyond the arc and led just once, 2-0, on Trent Forrest’s steal and layup on Clemson’s first possession.
The Tigers led by as many as eight in the first half (30-22), aided in part by a strong perimeter games. Clemson converted five of their first six 3-point attempts.
“They played with great confidence and swagger in the second half,” Brownell said of the Noles, who won’t play again until Dec. 17 when they host North Florida.