Sloppy loss at Georgia Tech unveils Florida State’s flaws

lost 76-65 at Georgia Tech (8-5, 4-3 ACC) to snap their five-game win streak.
lost 76-65 at Georgia Tech (8-5, 4-3 ACC) to snap their five-game win streak.(247Noles)
Published: Jan. 31, 2021 at 11:24 AM EST
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Florida State entered Saturday as arguably the hottest team in college basketball, showing few weaknesses over the past month.

The Seminoles then ran into a scrappy Georgia Tech team that made life on the offensive end as difficult for Florida State as it has been all year. With just under two minutes left and the game all but out of reach, RayQuan Evans fired a cross-court pass from the right wing towards Wyatt Wilkes. The pass was well out of his reach and the ball sailed out of bounds for Florida State’s 20th turnover of the game.

Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton turned toward his team’s bench and helplessly bowed his head in frustration.

That image was a microcosm of what was arguably the Seminoles’ (10-3, 6-2 ACC) sloppiest performance of the season, as they lost 76-65 at Georgia Tech (8-5, 4-3 ACC) to snap their five-game win streak.

Georgia Tech made only one more field goal (25 of 57) in the game than the Seminoles (24 of 56), but the 20 turnovers, the cold shooting behind the arc (3 of 14) and 10 offensive rebounds allowed to a much smaller and depleted Yellow Jackets team was too much to overcome.

Florida State’s defensive performance did not look bad on the surface. However, with Bubba Parham out, Georgia Tech played only seven guys with five of them playing over 31 minutes. Of those five players, Moses Wright is the only one taller than 6-foot-7.

For a team like FSU with a lot of size, length and depth to let Georgia Tech corral that many offensive rebounds and score 30 points in the paint was not going to suffice.

Wright (23 points), Jose Alvarado (21 points) and Michael Devoe (19 points) combined for 63 of the Yellow Jackets’ 76 points.

“Today they came home really much more determined than we were and they outplayed us. They gutted it out,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to take your hat off and give them a lot of credit.

“Tonight, we just didn’t have it going offensively and there lies the loss and that will happen to you when you are in the ACC. If you aren’t ready to play every night, this is what it feels like.”

Florida State’s depth has been well documented, and that can particularly help on the defensive end with more fresh bodies available to slow down an opponent’s best players. However, in a strange way, Florida State’s depth almost seemed to be a weakness against Georgia Tech when it came to the offensive end.

In the first half, 10 different players entered the game for the Seminoles and seven of them played at least 11 minutes. With so many players frequently rotating in and out, nobody could seem to find a rhythm and provide an offensive spark.

The other glaring issue Georgia Tech unveiled is how much Florida State struggled in the half court against a set defense. The Yellow Jackets did a solid job of limiting the Seminoles’ opportunities in transition, where they have been lethal this season.

Florida State had just eight fast-break points in the first half. Its lack of true perimeter creators outside of M.J. Walker and Scottie Barnes showed with its inability to run effective offense in the half court. When the transition opportunities weren’t there, Hamilton said it looked like guys were ‘stuck in mud’ as there was little off-the-ball movement and not much flow to their half-court sets.

“Today our offensive execution was probably as poor as it has been all year,” Hamilton said. “The ball didn’t move. I thought we over-dribbled. We didn’t get the normal kick-out 3s, the normal penetration and pitch 3s, the normal ball reversal. It seemed as though today we were not nearly as sharp in our execution on the offensive end.”

Florida State shot the ball much better in the second half (14 of 27 FGs), but that was mainly due to increased defensive pressure that allowed them to get out in transition more often and get more easy baskets.

Florida State also does not have a true point guard that can get everything organized when plays break down. Walker is the Seminoles’ de facto starting point guard, but he is more of a score-first player. It also did not help that he was in foul trouble all game. He eventually fouled out of the game.

Barnes, on the other hand, has flashed some elite passing instincts all year, but he is a bit raw and still learning how to play the position after primarily playing power forward in high school.

Florida State’s offensive execution over the past month or so has been excellent and one bad game is no reason to start making generalizations. Still, the offensive performance from Saturday raises a couple of questions.

1. Is the 10-man rotation going to be an effective way to consistently generate high-quality offense against top competition?

2. When Florida State needs a basket in critical situations, where does the ball go?

Depth is great to have over a full season, but there is a reason teams tend to shorten their rotations as they get closer to the postseason. It can be very difficult to establish great offensive consistency against tough defenses when a lot of players are constantly rotating in and out of a game. Teams need their best players on the floor more often in big games.

Every championship-caliber team also needs a go-to scorer or too, but it’s been hard to determine who that is for Florida State. Walker, Barnes and RaiQuan Gray each average over 10 points per game and have had a few great individual offensive games, but nobody has yet to emerge as a consistent top option for the Seminoles.

Those three have been probably the best players on the team in some order, but after that, most of the other players in the rotation are somewhat interchangeable. It may be tough for Hamilton to figure out how long to play each guy when a lot of their offensive outputs have high variance.

Florida State is still in a great position to challenge for the ACC regular-season title. The Seminoles now trail Virginia and Virginia Tech in the conference standings but are still only one game out of first place in a tight battle.

“Learn from this game. Hopefully, we will be a lot better as a result of it,” Hamilton said. “I’m just hoping that this is a loss that we learn from, as opposed to one that allows us to lose our confidence - which I don’t think we will.”

They’ll have three more road games before returning home with its next matchup coming against last-place Boston College on Tuesday. That game will be at 9 p.m. on the ACC Network.

Here are a few other quick observations from Saturday’s game.

FSU trailed at the half for the first time this season

Over the previous five games, Florida State had outscored its opponents by a combined 73 points. Eventually, that otherworldly output was going to regress and we would learn how Florida State would respond to playing with a deficit to start the second half.

Again, it was only one game, but the first sample was not very encouraging. The offense looked similarly stagnant in the half court as it did in the first half. There were several quick, low-percentage shots and not a lot of ball-movement or off-the-ball cutting.

The Seminoles performed better offensively after the break, but that was mainly the result of more transition opportunities and seven offensive rebounds. The lone 3-pointer they made in the final 20 minutes came via an Evans offensive rebound that resulted in an open 3 from the left corner by Wilkes.

And while, in theory, Florida State’s superior depth to Georgia Tech should have been an advantage defensively as the game progressed, it seemed to have the opposite effect.

The longer the game went, the more Florida State struggled to contain Alvarado and Devoe off the dribble. Wright also dominated the paint in the second half. That trio combined for 31 points in the final 20 minutes with Alvarado and Devoe making five 3s total.

Finally, nine of the Seminoles’ 20 turnovers came into the second half. They often looked rushed to make a play once they got into a hole, which led to some poor possessions. The lack of experience playing with a second-half deficit showed.

That should not be viewed as a concern yet. It’s not a bad thing that Florida State had been so dominant in first halves recently that it doesn’t have to worry about playing from behind later. However, there is a common thread in their three losses to UCF, Clemson and Georgia Tech: the Seminoles dug themselves into early second-half holes and could not stop the bleeding in time to climb out of them.

RaiQuan Gray’s second-half dominance

A rather puzzling part of Florida State’s offensive game plan was how late it took to emphasize getting Gray touches on the block. Gray scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and it seemed like every time the Seminoles got him the ball near the basket, he made a play.

As mentioned before, Wright was Georgia Tech’s one player over 6-foot-7 who played significant minutes. However, he was rarely the primary defender on Gray because he was needed to match up against Florida State’s two 7-footers in Balsa Koprivica and Tanor Ngom.

That meant Gray usually had a size advantage when he caught the ball on the block and because the Yellow Jackets decided not to double him, he had a relatively easy time getting to the basket.

Gray has a strong 260-pound frame with solid body control that allows him to finish through contact. With Georgia Tech being shorthanded and Gray having a size advantage, the Seminoles should have made it more of a priority to establish him earlier in the game.

As Florida State struggled to generate quality looks in the first half, having Gray as the security blanket in this particular matchup might have gone a long way.

Gray also got to the free throw line eight times in the second half and zero in the first half. Two Yellow Jackets players had four fouls. If Gray had been utilized a bit more often earlier in the game, there is a chance the foul situation could have been even worse and it would have pushed Georgia Tech’s limited depth to the brink.

These are matchups that have to be taken advantage of in tough conference games. Hamilton would be wise to look back on this game and try to get Gray more involved if a similar matchup should present itself down the road.

Barnes’ limited first-half role

Aside from Gray’s usage, the most puzzling part of Florida State’s first-half game plan was how little Barnes was involved. He was on the court for just five of the first 20 minutes of action.

Looking at the box score, one would assume his limited usage was the result of foul trouble, but he didn’t commit his first foul until 7:34 left in the half.

As usual, he started the game on the bench and entered at 16:45 but was then removed after just 84 seconds of game time. Even with no fouls, he didn’t return until there was 8:45 left in the half.

When he checked in for the second time, he committed two quick fouls and was understandably removed with 4:53 left.

However, it was a bit odd how little Barnes was on the court earlier in the first half, especially considering how much Florida State was clearly lacking offensive creation from the perimeter.

Barnes is arguably Florida State’s best player at creating offense off the dribble with his ability to get into the paint and score at the rim or find teammates for open shots. The Seminoles could have really used him when they were struggling to find quality looks early in the game.

It was not one of Barnes’ best performances this season, but his impact on the offensive end in the second half was clear. He scored all nine of his points in the final 20 minutes and made several impressive passes off the bounce. The shots just weren’t falling like usual for the Seminoles.

Florida State might not have won if Barnes played more in the first half, but the team was absolutely a bit more comfortable offensively with Barnes on the court.

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