Jason Rich hit a short jumper with 4.3 seconds left to lift Florida State to a 66-64 win over Georgia Tech on Sunday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
The Yellow Jackets, who fell to 6-6 on the season, had a chance to tie but Zack Peacock's off-balance jumper at the buzzer never had a chance, falling short. Florida State improved to 11-4 overall on the season.
"Give Florida State credit tonight," Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt said. "Considering that they were down some players, I thought they did a good job of battling and hanging in there and made plays down the stretch."
Florida State had only six scholarship players available for the game due to injuries and suspensions. In fact, walk-on Matt Zitani got his first career start for the Seminoles to give them further depth on the interior. After the game, Florida State Head Coach Leonard Hamilton talked about how the adversity may have brought the best out of his team.
"I've said all along that sometime adversity has the way of bringing the best out of us, and I thought that would happen today," Hamilton said. "We had no other choice - our backs were against the wall. We have to have a different game plan for each game."
After the tip it looked as though the short-handed Florida State squad would get run out of Alexander Coliseum as they were down 12-2 to Georgia Tech. Hamilton called a timeout and addressed his players.
"I told them that we had great shots that just weren't falling and that we had to continue to take good shots and be aggressive," Hamilton said. "[I also said] that we could not not get back on defense. I thought they scored eight to 10 of those points in transition. We were getting back at halfcourt and had them in our vision, but didn't sprint all the way back to the lane, and they were attacking at the lane, going over the defense. Once we got back and took them out of transition, it became more of a halfcourt game and obviously we had to play that way because of lack of depth and so forth, giving us more of an opportunity."
Florida State battled back and tied it at 19 halfway through the first half. The Seminoles would take the lead with an 8-2 run to finish the half to go into the locker room with a 40-34 advantage.
It was a battle of 3-point baskets before intermission with Florida State making 7-of-14 and Tech dropping in 6-of-12.
The two teams battled in the second half trading the lead numerous times. Senior guard Ralph Mims gave the Seminoles a 64-63 lead with 35 seconds left on a jumper. The Yellow Jackets tied it with 9.4 seconds left by D'Andre Bell, who made one of two free throws before Rich got the out of bounds pass in his end and dribbled the length of the floor for the game-winner.
Hamilton explained what transpired on the Seminoles final offensive possession.
"We were trying to get it to Toney (Douglas) on the push, and if they took Toney away we wanted to go to Jason (Rich) on the push," Hamilton said. "We had to read on that standpoint. They were guarding certain people out on the perimeter, so Jason came down and went straight to the basket, pulling up for a good shot."
Florida State went 0-for-8 on threes in the second half, finishing at 7-for-22. Florida State did shoot 26-for-51 overall on the evening.
Anthony Morrow had 17 points for the Yellow Jackets and Bell added 15. Jeremis Smith had nine points and 11 rebounds.
As for the Seminoles, they now prepare for their final non-conference game, LaSalle on January 5th, before they prepare for the remainder of their ACC schedule. With the loss of Solomon Alabi for the season, Julian Vaughn for an indefinite time period, and Ryan Reid still suspended the Seminoles will face a different challenge each night out.
"Every game is going to be a challenge for us - we just have to make sure that we go out with the attitude that we are capable of winning," Hamilton said. "We have to make sure that we stick with the game plan, stay away from our weaknesses and play to our strengths."
The Seminoles face the Explorers on Friday at home, the game is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m.