Florida State inches closer to ACC lead with dominant win over Virginia
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Virginia’s Tomas Woldetensae sat at the podium after Monday night’s game against Florida State and was asked to compare the Seminoles’ offense to other teams the Cavaliers have played this season.
His answer: Gonzaga.
That was the kind of performance that Florida State put on against the best defensive team in the ACC Monday night.
In a game that it needed to win to have a realistic chance of winning its second consecutive ACC regular-season title, No. 16 Florida State (12-3, 8-2 ACC) dominated No. 7 Virginia (15-4, 11-2 ACC), 81-60, for its 24th straight conference victory at home.
“They were more aggressive. They were more energetic than us,” Woldetensae said. “We were expecting a lot of pressure. I don’t know, maybe not in the scenario of switching that often. So that led us to spread the floor and struggle a little bit.”
The Seminoles’ offensive performance wasn’t quite as potent as the 98-point outburst Gonzaga turned in against the Cavaliers back on Dec. 26, but the 81 points they scored were 13 more than the most points Virginia had previously allowed in a conference game this season.
Once again, Florida State was dominant in the first half, shooting 53% from the field and making 6-of-10 3s on its way to outscoring Virginia by 20 points before the break. To put into perspective how impressive Florida State’s first-half performance was, consider the fact that Tony Bennett is in his 12th season as Virginia’s head coach. Monday marked just the third game in that span Virginia at one point trailed by 20 or more points and the first time that’s happened in an ACC game.
“Hats off to Florida State,” Bennett said after the game. “They’re that good when they’re playing like this and they were inspired.”
Over their last eight games, the Seminoles have outscored their opponents by 96 points in the first half alone. That includes a game against Georgia Tech, where Florida State was outscored by seven points.
The tables began to turn early in the second half when Virginia went on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to just seven in the first five minutes after the break. Florida State appeared to be on the verge of a second straight second-half collapse after squandering a 13-point lead against Wake Forest on Saturday.
Just when the Seminoles appeared to be in big trouble, Scottie Barnes whipped a cross-court one-handed pass to the left wing while being surrounded by two defenders. There was Sardaar Calhoun, who caught the pass right in his shooting pocket and drilled a 3 to make it a 10-point game. That pass was one of a game-high six assists for Barnes.
Calhoun’s 3 began a 20-2 run over the next 6:24 to put the game out of reach. Other than the six-minute stretch to start the second half that saw Florida State make just one field goal, it was a flawless offensive performance.
The Gonzaga team to which Woldetensae compared Florida State is second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency at 1.26 points per possession, per KenPom. The Seminoles scored 1.33 points per possession Monday night against a Virginia team that came in allowing only 0.92 points per possession. They also turned the ball over a season-low five times against the best defensive team they’ve faced this season. Monday was also miraculously the first time Florida State did not reach double digits in turnovers.
Florida State’s depth was yet again one of its best weapons. Ten different FSU players scored in the game, as its bench outscored Virginia’s 37-20.
“We got a tremendous amount of energy from everyone that came into the game,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought that allowed us to play at a very, very high-level for the entire game.”
The Seminoles are now two wins away from tying Duke’s record for consecutive ACC home wins. They are 1.5 games back from Virginia for the ACC lead, meaning the chase for a second straight regular-season crown is very much alive.
Here are a few other quick observations from Monday’s game.
M.J. Walker sets the tone
On a night where Florida State shot 50% from the field and made 13 3s against the best defensive team in the ACC, nobody was hotter than Walker.
The last five games were a bit up-and-down for the Seminoles’ leading scorer, but on Monday he chipped in a game-high 17 points and made 5-of-6 3s.
His first 3 makes from downtown came in a span of just over two minutes midway through the first half. The first one was launched from up top near the edge of the half-court logo. On the next possession, he buried one from the left corner in transition to cap off a 26-5 Florida State run and lead to a quick Virginia timeout.
About a minute-and-a-half later, he connected on another one from up top following a backcourt steal by Anthony Polite, who finished with eight points, two assists and two steals in his second game back from a shoulder injury.
Walker had big shoes to fill after Trent Forrest left for the NBA, but he has more than lived up to the challenge. His numbers have increased across the board from last season and he is one of the top reasons Florida State has not experienced much of a drop off from last year’s team.
Not only is he a near-lock to be a First-Team All-ACC selection, but he may have played his way into the ACC Player of the Year discussion after Monday night’s performance as well.
Walker hasn’t necessarily been the best player in the league, but if Florida State wins the ACC regular-season title again, Walker will definitely warrant some consideration.
Koprivica showcases huge potential in return
Without Koprivica, Florida State really struggled to generate quality shots inside the arc in the second half against Wake Forest on Saturday.
He returned Monday night from an ankle injury and played sparingly, but Florida State had no issues offensively without him on the floor this time.
However, in the 14 minutes he played, he made several highlight-reel plays that demonstrate his enormous potential as a two-way big man.
He made a key block about seven minutes into the second half on Kihei Clark, who had already scored 12 points since coming out of the locker room to get Virginia back into the game. Florida State scored 15 points in a row after that play to take a 68-43 lead.
In the middle of that run, Koprivicia knocked down a mid-range jumper and added to the onslaught from downtown, attempting and making his first 3 of the season.
On the next possession, he faked a 3 and showed off some nifty ball-handling for his size to drive to the basket on Sam Hauser and get fouled.
There were a couple of other times in the first half he switched out on a guard and cut off driving lanes to the basket.
It’s sometimes difficult to notice Koprivica’s impact on a game because he does a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, such as his ability to defend pick-and-rolls.
He’s always had a soft shooting touch, but on Monday night he proved he has the potential to develop into a formidable stretch-5.
If he returns to Florida State for his junior season, he should be one of the best bigs in the country. Regardless, he’s the type of player NBA teams covet in a modern big man.
Defense also impressive
For as jaw-dropping as Florida State’s offensive performance, its defense was almost as noteworthy, particularly in the first half. The Seminoles forced eight Virginia turnovers and held the Cavaliers to just 43% shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes of the game.
“I thought our energy on the defensive end was as good as it has been all year,” Hamilton said. “Our energy on the offensive end, I thought it matched the effort on the defensive end.”
The trio of Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trent Murphy III entered Monday night averaging a combined 40 points per game. They scored only 26 points against Florida State.
For as much as Virginia is known for defensively, the Cavaliers are also the second most efficient offensive team in the conference too. The 60 points against Florida State was Virginia’s third-lowest output of the season, and it was Florida State’s second-lowest defensive point total allowed.
The Seminoles also allowed only two fast break points, which in large part was the result of how well they took care of the ball.
Florida State has had turnover issues all season, but Monday was its best game in that regard.
If Monday is a harbinger of the Seminoles’ turnover woes being turned around, it will limit the damage teams can do in transition and force them to grind out more half-court possessions against all of their size and length. Florida State will be tough to beat that way even on nights when the shots aren’t falling at the rate they did against Virginia.
“Florida State is unlike a lot of teams you’ll play because they make every catch hard, they switch every screen, ball screen, off-ball screen, and they force you to spread the court, try to move a little bit and touch the paint, get aggressive and then you’ve got to make the next pass,” Bennett said. “It challenges you. You’ve got to handle the ball and they’re there and they bring in waves of guys. I thought that was tough and their athleticism and size are real.”
Florida State has another huge game Saturday against No. 18 Virginia Tech, who trails the Seminoles by a half-game for second place in the ACC. The Hokies haven’t played since Feb. 6 after a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
That one will wrap up a three-game homestand for the Seminoles.
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