Clark: Seminoles show true resolve on road, now sit atop ACC standings
We all know what the Florida State men's basketball team looks like when it's hitting shots from deep and playing offense at a high level.
So does Virginia, Louisville, Clemson and N.C. State for that matter. When the 16th-ranked Seminoles shoot like they did against those teams, it's easy to see why they have a chance to do some special things in March.
But it's what they did on Saturday at Pitt that might be even more important when it comes to making noise in the postseason.
In this game, Florida State didn't shoot well from the perimeter. The Seminoles, who are the best shooting team in the ACC, missed their first five 3-pointers and hit just four for the game. They also missed a number of easy looks at the rim, including a missed dunk by RaiQuan Gray and a fumbled-away chance at a wide-open dunk by Tanor Ngom.
M.J. Walker, the Seminoles' leading scorer and a potential first-team All-ACC member, didn't score a single point. Scottie Barnes was just 4 of 13.
And yet Florida State still found a way to pick up a critical conference victory in a place it hasn't played well for years now.
"We still found a way to win," FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the Seminoles' 79-72 victory. "We can win with M.J. Walker and Anthony Polite not shooting the ball well from the perimeter, us going 4 of 14 from 3. We'll take this victory. Because we know that we're going to shoot better than this."
Hamilton seemed more excited about the win on Saturday than he did the 21-point victory over the No. 7 Cavaliers on Monday night.
That's because he knows a whole lot of teams can win when they shoot well and knock down a slew of 3-pointers. It takes a different kind of squad, maybe an elite one even, to win away from home when your shots aren't falling.
When March rolls around, whether they're in Greensboro for the ACC Tournament or in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament, there will come a game when the Seminoles will feel like they can't buy an outside shot. That's basketball. You can't be red-hot every game.
But now the Seminoles know they can win one of those games, too.
They can win when Walker, who is dealing with some undisclosed injuries and barely practiced this week, doesn't score a single point. And when Barnes misses nine shots and makes just four.
You know why?
Because they can defend. They can rebound. And on Saturday, they decided to stop settling for 3s and attacked the basket relentlessly.
That resulted in 23 made free throws in 29 attempts. Pitt was 16 of 22. That seven-point difference at the line wound up being the difference in the game, which is ironic considering the way the Panthers paraded to the line in their last two home games against the Seminoles.
"We made winning plays," Gray said. "When we needed the big rebound, we got those. When we needed an offensive rebound, we got those. Steals, deflections, stuff like that -- we just did all the little things today. On the road, you have to have those things in order to win. You're not always going to shoot the ball as well as you do at home.
"You have to play defense on the road and guard people and rebound the ball. I think we did those things today."
What's so intriguing about this particular FSU squad is that it's so malleable.
It can win with defense. It can win with lights-out shooting. And it can win by dominating the offensive glass. Florida State out-rebounded Pitt, 43-39, on Saturday despite Balsa Koprivica being in foul trouble for much of the game.
The Seminoles had 17 second-chance points against Pitt.
Malik Osborne and Gray (who should legitimately start getting consideration for all-conference honors, by the way) combined for 28 points and 17 rebounds in the win. They more than held their own with Pitt's sensational sophomore forward, Justin Champagnie.
Sometimes, the sheer greatness of Barnes can take over a game. Sometimes it's the shooting from everywhere on the floor. Or Balsa underneath. Or Walker knocking down shot after shot.
Or the defense just suffocating the opposition for long stretches.
It's why the Seminoles -- thanks in part to Virginia falling Saturday night at Duke -- now sit alone atop the ACC standings. FSU is 9-2 in ACC play with an .818 win percentage, while the Cavaliers are 11-3 (.786).
There's no way to know how this season will turn out, of course. There are still several games left to go.
When it shoots like it did on Monday night against Virginia, Florida State feels like an unstoppable juggernaut. The Seminoles can beat anyone.
But in other games, like against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the Seminoles struggled mightily when their shots weren't falling. It seemed to completely sap them of the energy they needed on the defensive end. Especially in the second half.
Against a similar opponent on Saturday -- Georgia Tech and Pitt went down to the wire last weekend -- the Seminoles made sure their poor perimeter shooting didn't turn into a poor performance overall.
They won the game anyway. Away from home.
Which is where they'll be playing most of the rest of this season.
It wasn't a rout. It wasn't a shooting clinic. It wasn't a sensational offensive performance. And M.J. Walker didn't score at all.
Yet it still felt like a mighty big win for this team. Because of what it might just mean later on in the year.
Contact senior writer Corey Clark at email@example.com and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.