MJ Walker took an elbow to his lip and missed a large chunk of the game. But 12 stitches later, numb around his mouth, Walker’s shooting spoke volumes.
Walker scored 16 points, including five 3-pointers, as No. 8 Florida State played without star guard Devin Vassell and held off Syracuse 80-77 on Saturday.
“We were floundering a little bit,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “The game was somewhat in doubt and he put us on his shoulders. He made plays down the stretch. That says an awful lot about him.”
Florida State needed Walker, especially late. The junior guard drilled a 3-pointer with 4:19 left and then another 3-pointer with 2:36 to go, as he was fouled, and then made the free-throw attempt to complete a four-point play. In a tight game, Walker’s shooting and defense helped the Seminoles win their 20th straight home game.
“It wasn’t going to stop me from playing,” Walker said. “I felt good. I was still energized. I just picked up where I left off.”
Florida State won because of its trademark depth and defense. Freshman Patrick Williams came off the bench to play a season-high 32 minutes, scoring 17 points on 7 of 14 shooting and pulling down seven rebounds for the Seminoles (21-4, 11-3 ACC).
Vassell was on the bench but did not play. The sophomore guard averages 13.4 points per game and Hamilton declined to discuss the reason why Vassell did not play.
Syracuse had a last-second shot, but Elijah Hughes missed a 25-footer that went off the rim and would have tied the game in the final seconds. Hughes scored 25 points on 10 of 20 shooting and added four rebounds, playing just over 39 minutes as he returned from a groin injury that limited him to 3 minutes in Tuesday’s game against NC State.
Freshman Joseph Girard scored 22 points on 7 of 22 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds for Syracuse (14-11, 7-7), which has lost four of its last five games.
“Our defense hasn’t been good down the stretch,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “… We got to get stops, we got to rebound to win games like this.”
Trent Forrest scored 13 points, making two free-throw attempts with 8.5 seconds to go for FSU. RaiQuan Gray also had 10 rebounds as the Seminoles has a 47-29 edge on the boards.
Led by Williams’ 17 points, Florida State’s bench outscored Syracuse’s reserves 41-13. Wyatt Wilkes (eight points), RayQuan Evans (six points, four assists) and Dominik Olejniczak (six points, four rebounds) were also critical in securing the win.
“The quality of our depth really stood out,” Hamilton said.
TUCK TALKING POINTS
Florida State has only lost four times this year but each time has bounced back to win its next game. One of the main reasons on Saturday was the Seminoles’ 11 of 25 (44 percent) shooting from 3-point range.
Syraucse’s Buddy Boeheim, who averages 16.3 points per game, was held without a point on 0 of 7 shooting (and 0 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc). “We gave him a tremendous amount of attention,” Hamilton said.
FSU held the Orange to just 7 of 25 (28 percent) from 3-point range.
Florida state will play host to Pittsburgh on Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ACC Network). The Panthers defeated the visiting Seminoles in the season opener on Nov. 6.