Florida State trailed Marquette by 17 with 15:45 remaining in the Old Spice Classic Championship Game and looked finished. Nobody told the Seminoles that.
Over the remainder of the game the Seminoles used a 35-17 run to finish the tournament with a 3-0 record and some hardware to take back to Tallahassee, defeating the Golden Eagles 57-56.
"Obviously you don't like getting down 17 before you start really, really playing basketball but that is kind of what happened to us tonight," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said.
The Seminoles (6-1) trailed 30-18 going into the locker room at the half. Much of the reason why they trailed was their own doing as the Seminoles had committed 13 turnovers and shot a woeful 8-for-27 (29.6%) from the floor and 1-for-8 (12.5%) from deep. They even struggled at the charity stripe by going only 1-for-4 (25%) in the opening half.
"We had 13 turnovers in the first half, they did a great job pressuring us," Hamilton said. "I thought from a defensive standpoint they did a great job of getting into us and making it difficult for us to make passes, and created a lot of indecision on our part.
"I think we rushed things and you have to give their defense a lot of credit for that. They created a lot of that for us."
While Hamilton gave Marquette (6-1) credit for some of the miscues that plagued his team in the first half, it marked the fourth consecutive game where the Seminoles had 10 or more turnovers in the opening half.
"The first half was our own dumb mistakes, over and over, and what we had been talking about the past two games," FSU forward Jordan DeMercy said. "It isn't the other team pressuring us, it is just us making stupid mental mistakes, passing to nobody or dribbling off our foot, or doing something we are normally not capable of doing."
After a halftime adjustment resulted in the Seminoles deploying a three-guard lineup, the initial results were not positive as the Golden Eagles extended their lead to 17 with 15:45 remaining.
Hamilton called a timeout and his team returned to the court with a renewed focus, largely aided by their ability to value the ball.
"The second half we went to a smaller lineup with more ball-handlers on the floor and we went from turning the ball over 13 times in the first half to six in the second," Hamilton said. "We kept chipping away at it. … Down the stretch our guys were really attentive and executed everything that we had for them to run there. They made big plays and it shows a little bit that we are growing up and maturing."
In the final 15:45, the Seminoles were 15-for-25 (60%) from the floor. They finally regained the lead with 1:24 remaining when junior guard Derwin Kitchen hit a 3-pointer off an assist by sophomore forward Chris Singleton to put the Seminoles up 53-52.
Over the final 75 seconds, the Seminoles trailed two more times, but on both occasions the they were put ahead by sophomore center Solomon Alabi, who nailed a jumper with 11.9 seconds remaining that ultimately proved to be the difference.
Alabi, who had struggled early on with turnover issues, was heavily relied on down the stretch. According to Hamilton, it was never a question of whether or not to turn to his 7-foot-1 center - who stood seven inches taller than any Golden Eagle on the court.
"I had all the confidence in the world and went straight to him in two different situations and he came through for us like we know he is capable," Hamilton said. "I am sure that will give him a level of confidence."
While FSU came up with big offensive buckets throughout its comeback, it was the bread and butter of effective defense that helped lead it to victory. The Seminoles held Marquette to 21-for-54 (38.9%) shooting from the field and 4-for-18 (22.2%) from deep on the evening.
"I thought it was outstanding," Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said of the Seminoles defense. "I think their length and their athleticism allows them to do a lot of different things. They have two guys inside who can alter shots. When they are pressuring you high on the floor - they were not allowing us to reverse the ball, side-top-side. Their length and athleticism definitely bothered us."
For junior wing DeMercy, who provided a spark off the bench in the second half contributing all five of his points and six rebounds in that period, it came down to a tried and true defensive mentality that was the catalyst that led to the Seminoles taking home the hardware.
"We just knew there had to be stops," DeMercy said. "We could keep scoring if we wanted to but the lead wasn't going to change any amount if we weren't going to get stops, then there was no way we were going to win the game. As a team we take pride in our defense, that is what we are trying to be known for and trying to get stops when it matters. I guess we did that tonight."
While numerous role players came up big for the Seminoles down the stretch, the Old Spice Classic marked a period of emergence for sophomore forward Chris Singleton. Singleton, who led the Seminoles with 18 points and 10 rebounds, averaged 15 points and nearly eight rebounds per game in the Old Spice Classic, which was good enough to take home MVP honors.
"That shows that he is growing up," Hamilton said. "For a sophomore, I am pleased with the progress he is making as well."
Derwin Kitchen was the only other Seminole in double figures contributing 14 points.
Lazar Hayward led Marquette with 21 points in the loss.
FSU's grueling road trip has one more stop as the Seminoles travel to Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday night to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That game is set to tip-off at 9:30 p.m. Hamilton is hoping team continues to progress while earning victories in environments away from the friendly confines of the Donald L. Tucker Center.
"We are a team that is still growing, learning, and maturing," Hamilton said. "These games have been so good for us, early in the season with this level of competition and this atmosphere, I couldn't ask for a better venue to grow up and learn the mental state of mind you have to be in order to compete at this level."
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