For a half, it looked like things might be better.
The Florida State men’s basketball team, looking to avoid its first 0-4 start in 63 years, got off to an unbelievable start against rival Florida.
They Seminoles were hot offensively, effective defensively and built a 17-point halftime lead over the rival Gators.
But the regression to the mean was harsh and remarkably fast for the Seminoles. Less than seven minutes into the second half, that sizable halftime lead was gone.
By the time the buzzer sounded, the 76-67 final score was not at all indicative of how dominant a first half it was by the Seminoles in front of an active Tucker Civic Center crowd of 9,182 fans.
“You have to give the University of Florida credit. I thought they did a much better job of sticking to their gameplan,” FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said. ” I thought for them to be down like they were at halftime, to come back and make the adjustments offensively and defensively, mostly defensively. I thought their energy in the second half created some turnovers. I thought we made some poor decisions, they got the momentum, and we never seemed to be able to get it back.”
With the loss, FSU is 0-4 for the first time since the 1959-60 season. The Gators (3-1) have won two straight games against the Seminoles after FSU won the previous seven before that.
Caleb Mills led the charge offensively for the Seminoles with 21 points. He accounted for 12 of FSU’s 24 second-half points. The point guard also had six turnovers and just two assists.
UF standout center Colin Castleton was held down for a half, with only six points and five rebounds at the half. He found his stroke in the second half, however, finishing with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds.
Just about everything went right for the Seminoles in the first half.
They shot 48.4% from the floor and 50% from 3-point range. Matthew Cleveland looked like the assertive attacker that he was as last season’s ACC Sixth Man of the Year with 10 first-half points. Darin Green Jr. looked like the sharpshooter FSU thought it was getting in the transfer portal with 12 points over the opening 20 minutes.
Defensively, they were as intense as they have been all season and used their length to affect the Gators’ offense. It definitely helped their cause that UF missed a number of easy shots, had a stretch of over nine minutes without a made field goal and shot just 27.6% in the first half. But some of that credit does go to the Seminoles’ defense.
“In the first half, I thought we played with a lot more energy, knowing that we had some rotation guys, some healthy guys that we can utilize,” Hamilton said.
When things turned at halftime, they did in a major way. The Seminoles’ efficient offense became incredibly turnover-prone and the Gators’ anemic offense quickly caught fire.
UF opened the second half with a 23-3 run, turning a 17-point deficit into a three-point deficit in seven minutes and 20 seconds.
Twelve minutes into the second half, the Seminoles had as many second-half turnovers (9) as they had points. FSU finished the loss with 16 turnovers, 11 of which came in the second half. It’s the third straight game where the Seminoles had 13-plus turnovers.
UF head coach Todd Golden said he doesn’t normally utilize a full-court defense, but that he did in the second half against the Seminoles because he identified a potential weakness he could exploit.
“Florida State, with their injuries and their personnel. I think the guys that play for them are really good players, but at times they struggle handling the ball. I thought that would be an opportunity for us to get some run-out layups, get them uncomfortable…” Golden said. “They kind of beat the scout in the first half. That defensive pressure kind of got them uncomfortable and I don’t think they were necessarily ready for it.”
FSU kept battling, never letting UF run away with it after the massive lead disappeared so quickly. The Gators led by as many as 11 at the end of their run. The Seminoles cut the deficit to as little as five points a few times, but were unable to ever play their way all the way back into the game.
FSU improves its depth but not the results
FSU was left with a distinctly un-FSU available roster for the last few games, with as few as seven scholarship players available.
That changed Friday as the Seminoles got three players back from injury, improving their depth up to 10 with a return from center Naheem McLeod and the debuts of freshmen De’Ante Green and Chandler Jackson after missing three games.
McLeod fouled out in just 11 minutes, recording four rebounds and scoring no points with only one field goal attempt.
Jackson and Green both played sparingly, two and one minute, respectively. It may take them a bit of time to get acclimated to the speed of the college game and FSU’s system, especially coming off their injuries.
This didn’t improve FSU’s result against the Gators. It may down the stretch, especially if FSU is going to maintain its up-tempo offensive attack, as it has through four games.
“I’ve got to get a better handle on how to rotate and utilize guys who have not played at all,” Hamilton said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge for (our coaches) as well as our players now as we try to integrate guys who have not played at all back into our system.”
FSU’s next chance to snap itslosing streak comes Monday night.
The Seminoles host Mercer at 6:30 p.m. on ACC Network as they look to avoid dropping to 0-5. Mercer (1-2) plays Winthrop on Saturday.