It wouldn't win any beauty contests with how the game was played, but it's how you finish that counts. And Sunday night Florida State made the plays they had to make in the final minutes to gut out a 57-55 win over 23rd ranked Florida making it the fourth win in five games against their hated rival.
As Leonard Hamilton said after the game, "No doubt it, we needed this game more than they did."
The Seminoles shot just 31% for the game, were even worse from behind the arc shooting 28%, and was just 19 of 26 from the free throw line.
Florida were not any better shooting 39% overall, 4 of 18 three pointers (22%), and 64% from the line.
With leading scorer Toney Douglas held to just 2 points, well under his 19 ppg, one might conclude a different outcome occurred. But it was the key stops down the stretch from various other players that stepped up their games for FSU.
A key person in that was Jordan DeMercy who scored a career high 12 points all in the second half. In a game that Hamilton said had a lot of heroes in it, he praised the sophomore's performance saying "Jordan had tremendous defensive stops for us. If there was a hero for this game, he was it."
DeMercy was not alone however. Well into the second half only DeMercy and Solomon Alabi, who finished with 11 points, were the only Seminoles to score. The efforts kept the ‘Noles in the game until other helped arrived notably Ryan Reid with four points in the final 1:20 and Uche Echefu converting his only free throw attempts on the night to give FSU a three point lead with eleven seconds left.
Despite scoring just two charity shots even Douglas found ways to contribute on defense with steals and blocked shots as well as five assists.
"With Toney struggling somewhat on offense other guys stepped up for us", said Hamilton. "We had the stops we had to with the game on the line and did the things we had to do with the game on the line. It wasn't pretty though."
The game started out well enough for Florida State with FSU taking a 19-11 lead at the 6:35 mark on an offensive rebound put back jumper by Echefu.
Florida however whittled away at that lead on the strength of its 2-3 zone defense that Donovan used for the large majority of the game. The Seminole offense went south unable to connect on long jump shots or get the ball inside.
Erving Walker's driving layup made it 22-21. Four free throws by Reid held the Gators off but Chandler Parson's put back of a loose ball right before the buzzer made it 26-25 at intermission.
Coming out of the break FSU adjusted somewhat to the zone posting Reid along the free throw line. Better ball movement around the zone resulted in a three by DeMercy from the left corner who then dished out an assist to Alabi. The five quick points forced Donovan to call a timeout.
DeMercy and Alabi continued to lead the ‘Noles though. Alabi grabbed an offensive board and got the basket and a minute later converted two freebies from the stripe. Just to show he wasn't playing just one side of the floor, he forced Nick Calathes into a traveling call.
DeMercy also had an offensive put back and then scored on a two on one breakaway with the assist to Douglas. Fouled on the play by Calathes, DeMercy could not convert the free throw that would have given FSU a ten point lead.
Instead, with 12:38 remaining, the ‘Noles led 39-30 for the largest lead of the game.
That's when the Gators went on a 19-4 run to take a 49-43 lead and 6:05 to play.
Bothered by a full court press the Seminoles struggled to take care of the ball with at least four turnovers during the run including a ten second violation.
Still plenty of time remained and FSU was not going to suffer the same kind of collapse they did at Northwestern.
The ‘Noles scored six straight to tie the game highlighted by a steal by Reid taking it coast to coast dribbling past Calathes for the layup. Radio color man Keith Jones could be heard to say "pass the ball Ryan, pass the ball." Fortunately the junior did not take his advice.
Chris Singleton appeared to have given FSU the lead on a dribble drive finger flip layup from the left wing but was called for questionable charge. Instead Calathes banked in a shot from the lane over Alabi for a 51-49 lead at the 3:29 mark.
Reid and Douglas provided a spark to give the lead back to FSU. Douglas had a nice block of Walker's shot. Reid, who led the ‘Noles with 13 points, scored three consecutive free throws and finished the five point run with a turnaround fade away 12 foot jumper from the left of the lane giving the ‘Noles a 54-51 margin with 42 ticks remaining.
Neither Singleton nor Alabi could stop Ray Shipman's penetrating reverse layup making the score 54-53.
Disaster almost ensued as FSU brought the ball up the floor. Douglas was double teamed as he crossed the time line and Calathes tapped the ball away. Douglas diving for the ball quickly called FSU's last timeout saving the possession for the Seminoles.
The ball was smartly in bounded to Echefu, an 80% free throw shooter, who was promptly fouled with eleven seconds left. Echefu converted both and FSU led 56-53.
Hamilton knew Calathes would have the ball in his hands for would probably be the Gators' last possession. So he called for him to be fouled although DeMercy probably fouled him too soon with seven seconds on the clock. Hamilton explained afterwards that it was too soon but that they emphasized that Calathes should be fouled right after he crossed the timeline. "They were only doing what we told them to do", Hamilton said.
After Calathes converted both free throws and with Douglas double teamed preventing the in bound pass to him, DeMercy hustled back to receive the pass before the five second count and was fouled quickly. Stepping to the line, he missed the first but made the second setting up a little final drama over the final 6.5 seconds.
DeMercy said later he was a little nervous but this was the opportunity he spent many hours working on his shot for. Those hours paid off.
Donovan chose to go for the win on the road rather play for overtime. Dan Werner's three ball attempt from the left side was off the mark and Echefu secured the rebound to seal the victory.
Calathes finished with a game high 16 and Werner added 12.
So with the win that takes a little of the sting out of the football loss a week ago, FSU improves its record to 8-1. And it was just the kind of win the Seminoles needed to help make their case for a possible NCAA invite next March.
Hamilton praised his team's effort saying "We have a lot of work still to do, but this shows what this team is capable of."
The ‘Noles will take the week off for final exams before playing next Saturday at home versus Tennessee Tech. Practices will be limited obviously but the plan is too work in units in the evenings to work on developing individual player skills Hamilton explained.