ANAHEIM, Calif. – For two hours here on Thursday night, the big toe that had caused Trent Forrest so much pain and frustration over the last several months felt just fine.
Which meant that, for two hours, Forrest played a determined and inspired brand of basketball, scoring, distributing and defending in equal measure during Florida State’s Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga.
It was, in many ways, a heroic performance.
The only thing missing was the hero’s happy ending.
Forrest, a junior point guard and a native of Chipley, Fla., scored 20 points and had four assists, five rebounds, three steals and a block in the Seminoles’ 72-58 defeat against the Bulldogs in the NCAA West region semifinal.
And when the toe that slowed him for much of the season started acting up again – it did, late in the second half – Forrest got the treatment he needed, checked back in as quickly as he could and finished the game.
“It shows what kind of character Trent is,” FSU senior P.J. Savoy said. “He works hard. We know he’s battling some injuries. We appreciated him for just pushing through and fighting for us.”
In the broader picture, Forrest’s game will be remembered the way admirable losing efforts often are – appreciated in the moment but otherwise overshadowed by the winning team.
In a vacuum, though, Forrest’s game was, at times, simply breathtaking.
During the second half, as Florida State attempted to rally from a double-digit deficit, Forrest attacked the basket relentlessly, more often than not proving too quick for his defender despite his hurting toe.
Forrest scored 15 of his 20 total points during the final 20 minutes, made six of his eight baskets via layups and also threw up the lob that Devin Vassell slammed to home to cut FSU’s deficit to six points with 7:36 to go.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
And, for all that, Forrest’s most impressive play of the night might have come at the other end of the floor.
After mishandling an errant pass for a turnover that sent Gonzaga flying down the floor in transition, Forrest took off and, after a full sprint, met Bulldogs guard Zach Norvell Jr. at the basket.
Forrest made a big block, Norvell crashed to the court and the Seminoles got a shot in the arm as they launched their last comeback bid.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2019
“Trent’s our warrior,” FSU forward Mfiondu Kabengele said “He fights every day. He works out every day. He’s consistent every day.
“To see him fight like that, it wasn’t a surprise.”
Maybe not to Forrest’s teammates.
For the rest of us, though, it was hard not to be startled.
Forrest hadn’t scored that many points since mid-December, hadn’t logged that many minutes (36) since early February (in an overtime game, no less) and, beyond in his numbers, hadn’t looked so dominant since maybe last season.
Forrest was quick, he was explosive and he was aggressive. He was all the things that people came to see when they packed the gym to watch his games at Chipley High.
And he was all the things that his lingering injury – a “turf toe” style of ailment that sometimes made it hard to walk, much less play basketball – robbed him of for much of this season.
Forrest has been dealing with the toe for nearly the entire campaign. It was rarely enough to keep him off the floor, but it was painful enough that he felt it during games – and really, really felt it after games.
As recently as a few weeks ago, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton admitted that Forrest had some good days and some bad days, and that it was virtually impossible to predict what was coming.
Thursday, though, was a good day.
“Trent’s been probably 65, 70 percent all year,” Hamilton said. “But he’s never complained. He’s given us everything he has every time he’s been on the court. Tonight, he showed a little glimpse of what he’s capable of doing when he’s healthy.”
And a glimpse of what he’s capable of moving forward.
For all the success that Forrest has enjoyed in his three years in Tallahassee – three straight NCAA tournament appearances, back-to-back Sweet 16s, an Elite Eight in 2018 and a school-record 29 wins in 2019 – he might embark on his biggest challenge to date the next time he steps on the floor.
The Seminoles are set to say goodbye to five seniors, including key veterans Terance Mann, Phil Cofer and Christ Koumadje, and they’ll need new leadership to emerge in their absences.
Even after a disappointing finish, Forrest plans to use what happened here in the Sweet 16 as a springboard into a promising senior season.
“The whole thing just gives me more confidence,” he said. “I feel like the experience that the younger guys got will be great for our team next year. I feel like we’ll be able to use this as motivation to make it back.”
No wonder that his coaches and teammates are confident, too.
If Forrest can give the Seminoles what he did in the Sweet 16 – and if he can show the type of toughness and resolve that he has over the last several weeks – then there’s no reason to think he can’t take the reins as Florida State transitions into something of a new era.
“He’s a Seminole,” FSU assistant Stan Jones said. “Since before we started recruiting him, he was a Seminole.
“He wants to win. If you’re going to define somebody as winner, you put Trent Forrest’s picture by it.”