Florida State's final tune-up before ACC play begins next week turned out to be a bit more than the Seminoles had bargained for in a 67-59 win.
Facing a 4-6 Charleston Southern team didn't seem like a tall task but with 2:41 to play, FSU found itself clinging to a five-point lead and struggling to regain the momentum. The Buccaneers were able to hang around because of some outside shooting and a strong press defense that disrupted the Seminoles down the stretch.
"They didn't seem to be phased by our defensive pressure or anything," senior Ian Miller said. "They just stuck to their principles."
But instead of folding, FSU came up with a much-needed big play. The Seminoles attacked CSU's press as Devon Bookert threw a cross-court pass to Montay Brandon, and the sophomore guard dished a no-look feed to Boris Bojanovsky for a dunk to put FSU back up by seven points.
The play was aggressive for the final minute of a close game, but it worked, and it ensured that Florida State avoided an upset bid from Charleston Southern. Instead, FSU heads into ACC play with four straight wins.
Monday night's game wasn't just tough going at the end, CSU refused to go away all night. The largest FSU lead was 14 points, and the Seminoles never could deliver a knockout punch, largely because of Charleston Southern's shooting prowess. The Buccaneers lead the nation in three pointers made per game and shot 10-29 from beyond the arc Monday. That same prowess spurred CSU's late rally with three straight threes in the final minutes as well as a trapping defense that forced four crucial turnovers in the final four minutes of play.
"I am very happy to win this game tonight," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We turned the ball over six times in the last 5 minutes. We had some blown defensive assignments. …They wanted to get as many 3's up as they could."
Florida State responded by going down low.
The Seminoles took advantage of their size advantage and poured in 44 points in the paint. Aaron Thomas continued his strong production as well with 19 points. Monday was Thomas' third straight game topping 18 points, and he continues to shoot efficiently going 8-for-12.
"My teammates and coaches have confidence in me," Thomas said. "So I'm just taking advantage of it. My confidence has grown so I'm just trying to do whatever I can to get us over the edge."
Thomas' production was needed. The rest of the team shot just 37.5 percent from the floor and an abysmal 2-14 from beyond the arc. Okaro White fouled out with just two points on 1-for-5 shooting.
With those factors in mind, Hamilton said he was simply glad to escape with a win.
"When we can win a basketball game and Okaro can go 1-5… I feel pretty good about that," Hamilton said. "Obviously there were some challenges we had executing against their zone. We didn't make any adjustments we just emphasized the things we were doing all year."