TALLAHASSEE, FL – Throughout the last few weeks, Leonard Hamilton has insisted that Florida State is a much better shooting team than it’s shown during a recent three-game losing skid.
Tuesday night against Clemson, the Seminoles emphatically proved him right.
After combining to shoot 24.8 percent from 3-point range over its first five ACC games, FSU made 10 of 22 from distance in a 77-68 victory over the Tigers at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Redshirt sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele scored 17 points to top the Seminoles’ score sheet for the third time in four games, while senior David Nichols added 16 points, 12 of which came thanks to a 4 of 5 effort from beyond the arc.
Seven different Seminoles made at least one 3-pointer, and FSU’s 45.5 3-point percentage was its best in nearly a month.
“They obviously shoot it well,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “When they make 10 3s, they’re a handful.”
Their losing streak over and their shooting slump stopped, the Seminoles (14-5, 2-4 ACC) have a few days off before visiting Miami on Sunday. FSU beat the Hurricanes, 68-62, on Jan. 9.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of determination trying to bounce back from a couple disappointing losses on the road,” Hamilton said.
“This was a very important victory for us to stop the bleeding.”
And a win that, truth be told, seemed far from a certainty midway through the second half.
Boosted by their own shooting prowess and a healthy rebounding advantage in the early goings, the Tigers (11-7, 1-4) led by as many as nine points and had FSU at arm’s length, 55-50, with 11 minutes to play.
That’s when the Seminoles embarked on a stretch that flipped their fortunes in the game and, potentially, their season.
Spurred by back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers from RaiQuan Gray (a 6-foot 8, 260-pound forward), Devin Vassell (a freshman averaging 4.4 points per game) and Nichols, the Seminoles stunned Clemson with a 13-0 run and outscored the Tigers 27-12 over the remainder of the game.
And their outburst was part of another encouraging development – with veterans Phil Cofer, Terance Mann and Trent Forrest either out or limited by injury, FSU’s bench outscored Clemson’s 45-11.
“I thought our rotation guys played with an extreme amount of confidence tonight,” Hamilton said. “We got the same level of effort from everybody that went into the game.”
“I feel that this team responded really well,” Kabengele added. “The losses that we had before were tough on us, emotionally. And we had a lot of team meetings, discussions. And I felt like our team really got together and bonded, responded well against Clemson.”
Indeed, not only did the Seminoles improve their shooting, but, from the first half to the second they saw gains in their defending and their rebounding.
Clemson in the first half roughed up the Seminoles with 19 rebounds, five offensive boards and 16 points in the paint.
But FSU bounced back in the second half, outrebounding the Tigers and limiting the Tigers to just 10 points inside.
Clemson forward Aamir Sims had 15 points at halftime, but just 18 by the end of the game.
And the Seminoles did a fine job defending Tigers guard Marcquise Reed, who came into the contest as the ACC’s fourth-leading scorer (19.7 points per game) but on Tuesday had just 13.
“I thought our energy level picked up from a defensive standpoint,” Hamilton said. “I thought we were able to get some contests and get some stops.”
And, as a result, they were able to get some positive momentum as they approach the heart of their ACC schedule.
Florida State still has 12 conference games to go and more hurdles to clear – chief among them, winning on the road, which they’ll get another crack at on Sunday.
So while the Seminoles are well aware of their need to follow up this win with another, they also like the feeling of going to Miami with a welcome victory in hand.
“Getting a win like this is huge,” Nichols said. “You’re going to see guys playing much freer, a lot less pressure.
“Just building from this is going to be key.”
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