WATCH: FSU tops VT in overtime
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It might have been the message at halftime.
Or maybe the quick alley-oop from Terance Mann to Phil Cofer.
Or the hard, physical foul at the other end that denied a Virginia Tech dunk.
Seemingly everyone on Florida State’s roster had a different theory for when their game against the Hokies turned.
But they all agreed that it did.
Trailing by 14 at halftime and flirting with a deflating loss on Senior Night, the 14th-ranked Seminoles stormed back to take a lead, held on late as the Hokies forced overtime, then finally pulled away for a 73-64 victory in front of 10,611 fans at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Mfiondu Kabengele had 17 points and nine rebounds to help FSU improve to 15-1 at home this season.
“I thought we showed a lot of character by being down such a large margin in the first half and not playing very well,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We could very easily have gotten discouraged, but … they didn’t panic. They totally felt we could win the game.”
The victory comes with some pretty impressive notes and one significant milestone in the standings.
Fourteen points marks FSU’s largest rally in victory this season, and the Seminoles won their fifth consecutive overtime game in ACC play.
Most importantly, Florida State (24-6, 12-5 ACC) clinched fourth place in the final ACC standings, as well as the coveted double-bye in next week’s ACC tournament that comes with it.
The Seminoles will close the regular season Saturday at Wake Forest (noon, Raycom), then will begin postseason play Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., against either the tournament’s No. 5 or 12 or 13 seed.
“We’ve just got a lot of grit. We’re not going to go down without a fight,” Mann said. “And we’ve fought all year.”
Tuesday’s game was essentially for the four-seed, and for much of the first half, the Hokies (22-7, 11-6) seemed poised to claim it with ease.
Led by a hot-shooting offense and a physical, aggressive defense, the Hokies stunned FSU by sinking a series of 3-pointers and racing to a double-digit lead midway through the first half.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, found themselves forced outside, struggling to find open looks and, more often than not, settling for contested attempts that sometimes barely beat the shot clock.
The Hokies clearly had a plan for slowing down the Seminoles’ uptempo offense and, for at least the first 20 minutes, it worked to ruthless perfection.
Florida State went into the break trailing 33-19, having shot just 26.9 percent (including 3 of 16 from 3-point range) and with its lowest first-half scoring output of the season.
“They wouldn’t let us run any of our offensive system that we were accustomed to running,” Hamilton added. “They gave us all the 3-pointers that we wanted, and we took advantage of it.
“We took the bait.”
But perhaps it’s only fitting that, on Senior Night, a veteran group that has answered adversity throughout both this season and beyond, came together for yet another rally.
It started with a 3-pointer from Phil Cofer, his first of the game and FSU’s first successful attempt in 13 tries.
It continued with a pair of free-throws from Kabengele, a three-point play from Trent Forrest and then back-to-back buckets by Kabengele and Cofer – with a steal from Terance Mann sandwiched in-between.
In the span of just three minutes, 51 seconds, the Seminoles had launched an 11-2 run and trimmed a 14-point deficit to only four.
“We were a little discombobulated, because of them, on both ends of the floor,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “That first seven to eight game minutes in the second half, we were just completely out of sorts. And it was because of them.”
A few moments later, the Seminoles flexed their muscles at the other end of the floor.
With the Hokies holding a five-point lead, Virginia Tech forward Kerry Blackshear went to the basket for a dunk that might have quieted the crowd and switched momentum back to his side.
Instead, Forrest and Kabengele both met him at the rim, making had contact that sent all three players flying toward the floor.
Officials whistled Forrest for a foul and Blackshear made both of his free-throws, but by then it didn’t matter. The crowd had already gone wild, and FSU’s bench right along with it, and the Seminoles on the floor responded in kind with a startling surge that saw them take the lead a few moments later.
“That was just one of those plays where you give it everything you have,” Walker said. “I think that just gave us energy.
“I feel like the dog just came out in everyone and we turned it up a notch.”
But fighting for their own postseason positioning, the Hokies didn’t fold after surrendering their lead. Six times they managed to either cut FSU’s lead to one or tie the game, including for the final time when Ahmed Hill made the 3-pointer that forced overtime.
Florida State, however, was undeterred in the extra period, and scored eight of the first nine points to seal their 12th victory in their last 13 games.
The Seminoles made all six free-throw attempts in overtime as part of a 19-of-22 overall effort.
“We’ve seen everything,” Mann said. “We’ve got true leaders on the team who know how to take advantage of situations like that, calm the team down, stay poised and do what we do best.”