TALLAHASSEE, FL — Staring a potential three-game losing streak and a 1-4 start to the ACC season in the eye, No. 23 Florida State prevailed against Syracuse, 101-90 in double-overtime on a Saturday afternoon when things could have gone so badly.
Christ Koumadje scored a career-high 23 points and Braian Angola added 24 and a career-best eight assists as the Seminoles (13-4, 2-3) pulled away, limiting the Orange to two field goals in the second overtime.
Syracuse (12-6, 1-4) suffered its fourth consecutive defeat and remains winless on the road in conference play, much to the delight of an energized Donald L. Tucker Center crowd of 10,938.
“The game was just as important to them as it was to us,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, whose Noles beat Syracuse for just the third time in 10 meetings. “I thought both teams fought very hard. We just kind of hung on a little longer and were able to pull it out.”
The odds were certainly stacked against the Seminoles.
- The played without their junior leader Terance Mann, normally an integral part of the offensive attack plan against Syracuse’s confounding zone defense, who is in the concussion protocol;
- After missing their first eight shots of the game the Noles closed the first half with a flurry for a 31-21 lead, only to see it eradicated by a 19-3 run from the Orange, extending FSU’s recent string of second half struggles;
- Syracuse was the aggressor much of the second half and at one point – as the Noles were in the midst of a 3:51 stretch between field goals – held a 24-1 advantage in free throw attempts;
- FSU had no answer for Tyus Battle, who led the second half rally and scored 28 of his game-high 33 points after intermission, including a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left in regulation to force overtime;
- Then midway through the first overtime, Noles guard PJ Savoy was helped off the court with a knee injury, after contributing 11 big points off the bench.
And those are just a few of the reasons Hamilton and his players were thrilled to be celebrating a victory.
“I thought we battled,” Hamilton said. “They did too. We energized ourselves and gave tremendous effort like the game really meant something to us as a team, and I was glad to see our guys in a fighting mode the entire second half.”
In the ebb and flow of a game awash with early-season ramifications, the Noles were repeatedly up to the task. The decision to station Angola in center of Syracuse’s zone seemed to make all the difference as the junior repeatedly found Koumadje for lob dunks. He complemented his generosity by draining three 3-pointers and converting 8-of-9 free throw attempts from halftime to the finish.
It was Angola’s final 3-pointer, with 2:48 remaining in the second overtime, which gave the Noles a 93-84 lead that the Orange simply could not overcome.
Angola not only delivered on the floor, but said the Noles were hanging tough together, in the face of Syracuse’s big second half run.
“We were talking coming into the huddle and said, ‘Say together, keep chopping and keep doing what we’re doing and get the ball in the middle and we’re going to be fine,’” Angola said. “It was big for us.”
There was no shortage of contributors as the Noles had five double-figure scorers. In addition to Angola, Koumadje and Savoy, senior Phil Cofer pitched in 16 points – including a huge 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in regulation – to go along with eight rebounds. Mifondu Kabengele added 11 points and helped the Noles to a commanding 45-9 advantage in bench points.
Guard Trent Forrest led the Noles with 11 rebounds, added seven assists and forced the second overtime with his drive to the basket to forge an 82-82 deadlock.
“This game…everybody stepped up,” Cofer said. “That’s what we’re going to need. We’re going to need everybody no matter what. Our depth this year is great for us.”
From Forest, Savoy and CJ Walker (nine points, three steals, five rebounds), to the scoring leaders, Hamilton had no trouble identifying the contributors, who gave the Noles some much-needed momentum heading into a quick turnaround for Monday’s game at Boston College (7 p.m.).
“Sometimes you need games like this to challenge you, to reach deep down inside to try and overcome some challenges,” Hamilton said. “I thought our guys stayed connected and the comments that came out of their mouths were very positive, which you like to see.”
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