Closing time: FSU consistently finishing off opponents

Florida State is winning basketball games with guard play, depth and the ability to generate steals and blocks.

But it’s also how well the Seminoles have played in the final minutes of games. This is where FSU’s depth comes in to play but the team is also making critical plays on the offensive and defensive end to win games.

“It’s tough to close out games,” forward Malik Osborne said. “Just when you think you have it with two, three minutes left, a run can happen and the game can be over with and you could be on the losing end. A team like this, able to have multiple players able to close the game out, it’s very rare but I’m very appreciative of it because it’s worked out in our favor.”

It definitely worked out in FSU’s favor both recently and as part of a long-term trend. The Seminoles are 36-9 in one-possession games since Michael Snaer hit a game-winning three-pointer to win at Duke in 2012.

No. 5 FSU (16-2, 6-1 ACC) has won nine straight games this season going into Saturday night’s matchup against Notre Dame (11-7, 2-5). The game will air nationally at 8 p.m. on ACC Network. 

But consider the last three games in particular as the Seminoles have put away teams late:

Miami led 65-56 with 5:20 left. But the Seminoles chipped away at the deficit, helped by M.J. Walker’s 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to send the game to overtime before putting away the Hurricanes.

FSU and Virginia traded the lead in the second half, with Anthony Polite tying it up with 2:27 to go on a corner 3-pointer. Devin Vassell hit a 3-pointer and made a few free-throw attempts but it was also the Seminoles forcing turnovers – including a 10-second backcourt violation – that helped FSU pull out the win.

Coming off the big road win over top-10 Louisville, FSU then traveled to Wake Forest in what could have been a “trap” game. Would the Seminoles have the focus and provide the effort to win? Yes, especially late. The Seminoles held Wake to one made field goal in a stretch of six minutes, 30 seconds to extend a three-point lead to a comfortable 67-56 cushion.

FSU has played good basketball in the first half of games. But the Seminoles have played their best either in the second half, making adjustments early coming out of the locker room, or late in games as they secure wins.

“It just shows the character that we have,” Vassell said. “There are a lot of times where we were down these last couple games. Nobody started stressing out or freaking out. We said, ‘Let’s keep chipping away. If we get some stops hopefully we’ll be able to turn this game around.’ ”

Koprivica close to return

Freshman center Balsa Koprivica has missed four games due to a back injury that he suffered on Dec. 31 against Georgia Tech. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton indicated that Koprivica has returned to the court in practice and may be able to play on Saturday.

“He’s very close,” Hamilton said. “He’s been practicing without a whole lot of difficulty.”

FSU may be without forward Patrick Williams, who has a sprained toe. Hamilton said it is unlikely that Williams will go on Saturday.

“We want to try and give it time to heal,” Hamilton said.

Devin Vassell is among the ACC leaders in blocks and steals. (photo by Mike Olivella)

Vassell recognized for playing defense

Sophomore guard Devin Vassell has been named to the 2020 Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Midseason Watch List. Vassell is one of only 15 collegiate basketball players selected from various conferences.

Vassell ranks eighth in the ACC in steals (1.7 per game) and 10th in blocked shots (1.2 per game) and is one of only two players in the ACC who is ranked in the top 10 for both steals and blocked shots. Vassell has earned at least one steal in 14 consecutive games. He leads the team in blocks (21), steals (30) and defensive rebounds (68).

“Coach Ham preaches defense all the time,” Vassell said. “I came in this year just emphasizing defense and getting stronger. Just emphasizing more and more on defense because I know if we get stops on the defensive end we’ll have more opportunities on the offensive end.”

Others from the ACC who made the list are Duke sophomore guard Tre Jones and Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite.

FSU-Notre Dame a sellout

Tickets for FSU’s game on Saturday sold out quickly by midweek. The student allotment was snapped up quickly and the Donald L. Tucker Center will be filled for a primetime game on a Saturday.

More than 10,000 fans saw FSU’s last home game, a victory over defending champion Virginia, and this will be the first sellout of the 2019-20 season.

“Our fans have motivated us, have given us that sixth man in the stands, they have given us that energy when we needed it,” Hamilton said. “We have played hard enough and won enough games that they get excited. And in turn, they are motivating us and inspiring us, the fact that they are so supportive. We seem to have a love affair going with our fans. We are so appreciative. 

“We are starting to give people a little dose of the medicine that we get when we go on the road. And that’s just what the doctor ordered.”


1-on-1 with Anthony Polite, FSU men in top 5, FSU women look to bounce back

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