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Mills early, Cleveland late as FSU holds off Louisville

One of Florida State’s best first halves of the season was followed by an ugly second half.

But the Seminoles maintained the lead late and hit three straight shots down the stretch to hold off Louisville.

Caleb Mills tied a career-high with 27 points — including 23 in the first half — while Matthew Cleveland hit a 3-pointer and had a thunderous two-handed dunk in the final two minutes as FSU knocked off Louisville 79-70 on Saturday, the Seminoles’ fifth straight win over the Cardinals.

“I told the guys in the locker room that I thought they are finding out more of that mental edge that you have, that magic level that you have to have to compete with the better teams in the league,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We took a step in the right direction tonight.”

Mills shot 9 of 16 from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line. The Houston transfer added four rebounds in his best game since dropping 27 against Tulsa in Feb. 2020.

“I was just taking shots I felt I could make,” Mills said. “I was just trying to win.”

Matthew Cleveland tied his season-high with 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting and the freshman added five rebounds for FSU (8-5, 2-2 ACC).

FSU handed Louisville (10-5, 4-1) its first ACC loss but not without some drama in a disjointed second half. The Seminoles led by 54-40 with 16:21 left but they went ice cold and made just 3 of 16 shots from the floor to open the second half.

While it was uncomfortable to watch, and even missed free-throw attempts piled up, FSU made enough shots in the final few minutes. Cleveland’s 3-pointer with 1:59 to go put FSU up 72-63 and all but secured the win.

Mills surpassed his season-high with 23 points by halftime. He hit 8 of 12 shots from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.

“Obviously Caleb Mills put us on his back in the first half,” Hamilton said. “He gave us a guy to go to. … This is just naturally the way he plays. He’s been trying to blend in, he’s trying to play unselfish, he’s trying to give us good leadership. Tonight, he sensed that some of the guys were struggling a bit and he said he was going to go out and give us good leadership offensively and defensively. He scored 27 points but I thought his defense was excellent. His energy was excellent.”

FSU won on a night when the veterans did little on the offensive end of the court. Malik Osborne had six points on 1 of 6 shooting. Anthony Polite had eight points on 2 of 7 shooting. Wyatt Wilkes had six points on 2 of 7 shooting. Rayquan Evans did not score on 0 of 4 shooting.

Polite led FSU with eight rebounds. The Seminoles tied Louisville with 38 boards apiece.

Naheem McLeod had five points, two rebounds and a block in 16 minutes.

FSU won despite shooting 17 of 28 (60.7 percent) from the free-throw line. But Polite and Mills each hit a pair of free-throw attempts in the final minute to ice the win.

FSU shot 19 of 36 (52.8 percent) from the floor in the first half, including 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range. It was a different story for much of the second half, in which FSU finished 8 of 23 (34.8 percent) from the floor and 1 of 7 (14.3 percent) from 3-point range.

El Ellis, who played at Tallahassee Community College, had seven points in the first half for Louisville and finished with 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting.

The Seminoles scored the most points in a first half since dropping 51 in the opener on Penn. And FSU secured its biggest win of the season, knocking off Louisville — which was No. 58 in the KenPom.com rankings going in to Saturday’s game.

Osborne’s injury

Hamilton said Osborne turned an ankle but has not practiced since before the Wake Forest game on Tuesday. He cited Osborne’s effort and leadership in gutting through the injury to play 24 minutes. FSU is shorthanded in post players and needed Osborne as well as McLeod to play significant minutes.

Box score

The Louisville-FSU box score can be viewed here.

Up next

FSU plays host to Miami on Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ACC Network). The Hurricanes stunned No. 2 Duke on Saturday night.