As ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick said, if you weren't entertained today by the battle between Josh Howard and Florida State's Tim Pickett, you just weren't going to be entertained period. Both players were matched up on each other most of the game with each scoring a game high 17 points. And each player struggled to beat the other in the first half showing why both were named to the ACC All-Defensive team this year. However both turned it on in the second half in what became a back and forth affair.
But, when it came down to needing points, Wake Forest found other players besides Howard to make shots. Meanwhile, other than Pickett, FSU could not get the ball through the rim.
Bench scoring played a huge role in the loss as well. The Deacons bench led by Justin Gray's 15 points outscored the Seminoles' bench 18-2. Only Todd Galloway's lone highlight basket accounted for FSU's bench points.
Vytas Daneluis was the only other Deacon in double figures with 14 points.
For Florida State, three other Seminoles joined Pickett in double figures. Trevor Harvey scored 15 points most of which came from underneath the basket as FSU managed to effectively attack the basket. Anthony Richardson added 14 although he was off with his shot most of the game shooting a mediocre 4 of 12 from the floor. Michael Joiner chipped in 10 points.
Dick Vitale's pre-game keys to the game were rebounding and Howard. He was correct on both counts. The Deacons, the best rebounding team in the nation, clobbered Florida State on the boards 43-22. Florida State managed to negate some of that advantage by forcing Wake Forest into 18 turnovers with 11 steals while committing only 11 turnovers themselves.
Florida State showed no signs of having played just hours earlier. Wake on the other hand seemed shaky at the beginning of the game. The Deacons committed two fouls and two turnovers in the first 2:15 of the game. Joiner scored all the points off of a three-pointer from the right corner and an offensive putback.
FSU held the lead for almost the entire first half. Ahead 16-12, Galloway, whose driving underhand layup between two defenders is sure to make the highlight film, ignited a 9-2 FSU run. Despite Wake employing a zone defense, FSU was able to knock down shots from the outside, get the ball into Harvey under the basket, or have Pickett drive the baseline. With 6:53 left in the half, FSU looked like they wanted it more than Wake and led 25-14.
Wake Forest Head Coach Skip Prosser responded with a timeout that promptly led to Wake's eighth turnover. But, it was Florida State that lost some of its composure at that point. Adam Waleskowski slapped the ball into the backcourt. What was essentially a long rebound, Howard raced the length of the court for the slam-dunk. That began a streak where the Deacs outscored FSU 11-0. Several loose balls were turned into 3 on 1 breaks. Howard's offensive putback tied the game at 25 with 3:49 remaining in the half.
Pickett ended the drought on a spectacular play. Picking off a pass on the right wing, Jamaal Levy positioned himself perfectly between the basket and Picket. Or so he thought. With Pickett driving closer the to the rim, a 360 degree spin move left Levy moving to his right while Pickett went the other way banking the ball in off the backboard.
The half ended 30-29 with Waleskowski missing a three-point attempt following a very good defensive stand on the other end.
Things were looking very good for FSU as the Tribe was 10-0 this season when leading at the half.
Hamilton at the half said his team played well overall to that point. The lapse in composure midway through hurt them erasing a double-digit lead as well as rebounding and shot selection in some cases.
Wake Forest took its first lead, 31-30 when Tarn Downey stole the ball from Richardson. Danelius offensive putback came at the 18:13 mark. Harvey, who was a perfect 5 of 5 from the line, regained the lead seconds later on two free throws. The Seminoles held the lead for the next three plus minutes. Danelius' three from the left wing tied the game at 39 and Howard's one of two gave the lead back to Wake.
It was a back and forth game from that point on until the 8:07 mark. Pickett's three from just left of the key made it 44-42. Downey gave the lead back to Wake when he was fouled by Galloway outside the arc. A ten-second flurry with the ball rolling wildly on the floor could not be finished off by Pickett after he stole the ball from Gray. Positioning himself well on the post all day, Harvey regained the lead, 46-45, on two more free throws. Galloway corralled a rebound and launched an alley-oop pass to Richardson. Harvey's turnaround jumper on the left baseline over Levy gave FSU a 50-47 lead. That was immediately erased when Danelius nailed a three from the left side of the key. Levy gave Wake the lead for good on two free throws.
Danelius slam-dunk from along the baseline preceded Pickett's 17-foot jumper.
And then Howard asserted himself taking matters into his hands. First came the baseline up and under layup. Then came the 15-foot jump shot. With 5:51 remaining, Wake now led 58-52.
FSU tried to not let Wake get too far away. Richardson got the benevolent bounce from the right corner, but Downey answered with a three from the right wing. Pickett displayed another highlight move to close it to 61-56. With Howard very aware Pickett would shoot the ball, he could do nothing as Tim spun his way around and under Howard along the baseline for the lay in.
As has been the problem all year long for Florida State, finding points from someone other than Pickett down the stretch has been difficult. Wake on the other hand found other weapons. Danelius continued to exploit FSU's defense with a jumper from the right baseline. Pickett closed it to 63-59 with a three-pointer from the right corner. Plenty of time remained for the Seminoles to pull of the upset with 3:45 to play. It was the last basket FSU would score.
Although Wake seemed to play impatiently and carelessly on offense, they still had the lead. In crunch time the basket got just a little smaller for FSU. Galloway's out of control spin move was blocked under the rim and Pickett's three-ball attempt from above the key missed its mark.
In what emphasized the Seminoles' inability to put the ball down when needed occurred with 1:30 left. Pickett drove down the lane and with the defense collapsing found Waleskowski wide open on the left block. All Adam had to do was slam the ball home. Instead in what seemed to be a casual shot attempt clanged away off the rim. Seconds later Levy made it 65-59.
Although FSU closed to 65-61 on two Richardson free throws, FSU was forced into fouling the Deacons. That is a strategy that will not work very often against a very good free throw shooting Demon Deacon team. Four straight charity shots closed out the scoring for the final margin.
Wake Forest moves on and Florida State goes home. FSU finishes the season 14-15 overall and more than likely out of any consideration for a NIT bid. It was the most wins however for the ‘Noles since the 1997-1998 year when FSU won 18 games.
Although FSU has never won back to back tournament games, and today was no exception, it was probably the best effort of any Seminole team when coming out of the play-in game. Once again this season the Seminoles showed no signs of quitting. A couple of baskets here or there could have meant a different outcome.
With some quality recruits coming in next season and Pickett, Galloway, and Richardson returning, the Seminoles seem to be positioning themselves nicely to make some noise in the ACC in the next year or two.