Game 33: No. 3 seed Notre Dame (24-8) vs. No. 2 seed Florida St. (25-7)
-- Date: March 10, 2017
-- Place: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, N.Y.
-- Time: 9:30ish pm ET
-- TV: ESPN
-- Nickname: Seminoles
-- Head coach: Leonard Hamilton (503-404 overall; 303-194 in 15th year at FSU)
-- Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
-- 2015-16 record: 20-14, 8-10 (t11th in ACC)
-- 2016 Postseason: NIT 2nd round
-- Point spread: Florida State by 2½
After winning its first five ACC games, Notre Dame finally succumbed on the road to Florida State, 83-80, in a game in which the Irish shot 15-of-21 from three-point range but offset that by committing 18 turnovers.
“It’s like, ‘God, we wasted a great shooting night,’” said Irish head coach Mike Brey of that Jan. 18 game at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee. “We couldn’t handle the ball like we usually handle the ball.
“But it’s encouraging to know that when we did move the ball and were good with it, we were able to move them around and got looks.”
When given an opportunity to even the score against the Seminoles three-and-a-half weeks later, the Irish converted nearly 50 percent of their field-goal attempts and 19-of-21 from the line while out-rebounding the longer/deep Florida State squad (41-34) in an 84-72 victory.
“Taking care of the ball,” said Brey when asked to give a quick key to victory late Thursday night/Friday morning. “We didn’t in the first game; we did in the second.
“Of course, the first game, we weren’t playing small, we weren’t downshifted as much. In the second game, we were able to spread ‘em and they had a hard time with Bonzie (Colson). We were driving the ball.”
Colson scored a career-high 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting and a perfect 8-of-8 from the line to go with 13 rebounds on Feb. 11.
If the Irish can do what they did on the backboards in the second game against the Seminoles – despite playing a five-out style of offense – the result could be similar, although Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton will be prepared with a counter move.
“Can our small lineup hold up on the backboard?” Brey wondered. “We out-rebounded them in South Bend with the small lineup, and that’s encouraging.”
The Seminoles were tied at 52 with Virginia Tech Thursday night when they went on a 15-1 run to claim a 74-68 victory.
Freshman Jonathan Isaac, who torched the Irish for 23 points and 10 rebounds in the first tilt, and then was virtually invisible (four points, six rebounds) in the rematch, scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against the Hokies.
Dwayne Bacon scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to reach double figures for the 31st time in 32 games.
If you’re going to defeat the Seminoles for a second time in three tries, you’ll have to deal with their length and depth, although at Purcell Pavilion, Florida State had difficulty matching up with Notre Dame’s smaller lineup.
Twelve Florida State players saw action in the first half against Virginia Tech, which was one less than the Irish saw in Tallahassee in January. Five players in that rotation stand 6-foot-8 or better, including the 6-foot-10 Isaac, 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje.
Only Ojo and Jarquez Smith are seniors, although Isaac would be a probable lottery pick if he were to leave after his freshman season.
Three players average double-figure scoring – Bacon (16.9), Isaac (12.2, along with 7.4 rpg.) and veteran Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10.3). Terance Mann scores at an 8.6 clip and is shooting 58.1 percent.
Six others score between four and six points per game, so there are threats to keep the scoreboard turning – they average 83 points per game – regardless who’s in the lineup.
Top three-point shooting threats include Bacon (53 made, 35.4 percent), P.J. Savoy (38 made, 40.4 percent), Rathan-Mayes (37 made, 33.0 percent), and Isaac (30 made, 36.1 percent).
Fortunately for the Irish, they’re back to a nine-man rotation with the re-emergence of Martin Geben and the occasional contributions of energy source Austin Torres and shooter Matt Ryan.
Two key points to consider: Florida State shoots under 70 percent from the free-throw line and the Seminoles were 9-0 at home and 3-6 away from home in the ACC.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE
Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson have played significant roles in each of Notre Dame’s three trips to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
Matt Farrell and Martin Geben have been along for the ride with Farrell’s role expanding significantly this year. Austin Torres has been here as well, and Rex Pflueger was instrumental last year.
Been there, done that counts.
“When it gets to this time of year with this nucleus, their level of focus goes up,” Brey said. “They believe it’s their time and they played like it (vs. Virginia).”
Not true for Florida State. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes were cornerstones of last year’s Seminole squad, and Terance Mann played a role when Virginia Tech eliminated them in the ACC tournament last year.
But that’s about it, and that could show up in the semifinals tonight. It did against Virginia with London Perrantes the only senior contributor and two freshmen (Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome) in the starting lineup.
“Two freshmen starting in the quarterfinals of an ACC basketball tournament game is a lot of pressure,” Pflueger said. “They’re both going to be great players within their program, but Guy had a rough night.
“Our veterans really stepped up. We’ve been in this position the past three years, so we feel comfortable being here.”
Notre Dame has always been known as an offensive juggernaut under Brey. But in an incredible defensive performance against Virginia, the Irish squashed any hopes of the Cavaliers making a comeback Thursday night with a suffocating defensive effort.
Make no mistake, Virginia is offensively challenged this season with the loss of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, who combined for 32 points per game last season.
But it was the effort and fundamentally-sound principles against Perrantes and Guy that limited the Cavaliers’ hottest scorers to a combined 1-of-17 shooting Thursday night.
“Discipline,” summarized Farrell as to the key to the Irish defense. “We really communicated well together on the defensive end, and when we do that, I think we can be a really good defensive team, too.”
Doing most of the heavy lifting was Pflueger, who held Perrantes to 1-of-9 shooting.
“He’s an amazing player,” Pflueger said. “He played with my brother for four years in AAU, so I grew up watching his game and understanding the way he moves and the way he changes pace.
“Having the opportunity to guard a player like that is a dream for any defender with a mindset like mine.”
Brey often has preached defense, but rarely has it come to fruition – in lockstep with the offensive performance – like it did against the Cavaliers.
“We guarded the heck out of (Virginia), and then we came back down on the other end and were really smart offensively,” Brey said. “We were really efficient and really focused on both ends.”
Notre Dame held the Cavaliers to 38.6 percent shooting from the field (22-of-57). That’s the first opponent to shoot less than 40 percent against the Irish since Miami converted 38.1 percent – 15 games ago -- on Jan. 12.
Rex Pflueger’s steal and reverse slam-dunk early in the second half against Virginia gave Notre Dame a double-digit lead with 18:18 remaining. The advantage never dipped to single-digits the rest of the night.
In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like it was a significant risk. The Irish were in control, maintained control the rest of the way, and cruised to an easy victory.
At the time, however, a miscue by Pflueger would have been the cause of great anxiety.
Not for Pflueger.
“That was one of the dunks I preferred in AAU basketball on fast-break dunks,” Pflueger said. “Once I got the steal and was within 10 feet of the basket, I knew I could throw it down.”
Pflueger told another reporter that he considered a 360-degree dunk.
“Rex worked so hard guarding Perrantes tonight that he had the green light to do whatever right there,” Brey laughed. “That’s our boy! It’s a Hollywood thing. He was fabulous.”
POINTS IN THE PAINT
• Notre Dame has won six games in a row at the Barclays Center – BYU (11-17-12), Michigan (3-18-16), Stephen F. Austin (3-30-16), Colorado (11-21-16), Northwestern (11-22-16) and Virginia (3-9-17).
• In addition to his 19 double-doubles this season, Bonzie Colson has had eight 20-point/10-rebound performances, including last night’s 21 and 10 effort. All eight have come against Power 5 conference teams – Colorado, Iowa, Purdue, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia.
• With his 4-of-4 from the free-throw line against Virginia, Steve Vasturia is shooting 91.5 percent (86-of-94) on the season. That’s the top mark in the ACC and the eighth best in the country.
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Notre Dame 77, Florida State 76