It was a story that has become a little more commonplace this season than Florida State’s men’s basketball team would like.
On Friday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals against Notre Dame at Barclays Center, the Seminoles dug themselves a huge hole, staged a big rally to almost come all the way back but then fell short in the end.
After knocking an 18-point, second-half deficit to five, second-seeded Florida State was not quite able to complete the comeback, falling 77-73.
Third-seeded Notre Dame will now face fifth-seeded Duke for the ACC tournament championship at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
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It was FSU’s fourth defeat in its past eight games, and suddenly a fabulous season that saw the Seminoles soar in the rankings and garner national respect is hitting a bad patch at the wrong time.
“We just have to be better at the start, be a lot more aggressive,” said FSU’s Braian Angola-Rodas, who scored 17 points. “Sometimes we settle for some shots. At the end of the game, we were more aggressive and we were able to have a lot more success.”
“We just didn’t finish out what we needed to do,” FSU’s Jonathan Isaac said. “This [tournament] is one I really wanted for guys like Bake [Dwayne Bacon] and X [Xavier Rathan-Mayes]. It hurts.”
Florida State’s strong season has come from a combination of factors, but its balanced and consistent offense has been a major reason.
In the past few weeks though, the Seminoles’ attack has turned into a definite question mark.
Friday marked the seventh time in eight games that FSU (25-8) scored fewer than 75 points, and the Seminoles have gone 4-4 in that span.
The real tournament starts next week, and while the Seminoles should certainly earn a high seed — ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 3 seed — their lack of offensive production has to be concerning.
If FSU’s defense had played up to par on Friday, the Seminoles might’ve been OK.
But it didn’t.
Notre Dame (25-8) ripped off a 26-11 run over the final 10 minutes of the first half to take a whopping 16-point lead into the break.
The Fighting Irish were able to get just about any shot they wanted, hitting on 48 percent from the field.
“They started hitting some tough [three-pointers] with hands in their face,” Angola-Rodas said. “We were fighting back, but they got up so big it’s hard to come all the way back.”
Florida State fell behind by as many as 18 before rallying. Bacon, who scored a team-high 18 points, got cooking and so did Angola-Rodas, and as FSU picked up its defensive intensity it got back into the game.
The Seminoles got as close as five points on two occasions midway through the second half and cut it to 73-68 in the final minute.
But a three-point try from the left side by Angola-Rodas rimmed out, and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson (18 points, six rebounds) sank two free throws with 19 seconds left to seal the victory.
“When it came out of my hands I thought it was going in, and I was really surprised it didn’t,” Angola-Rodas said.
Rathan-Mayes added 13 points for FSU.
Florida State has been to the ACC tournament final twice, in 2009 and ’12, and the latter time the Seminoles won their only ACC tourney championship.
Despite the loss and the recent offensive woes, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton didn’t express concern about his team.
“I feel very good about my team as we head into the NCAA Tournament,” Hamilton said. “I think we’ve been pretty good at bouncing back all year. We won 25 games. So we realize we’re a pretty good basketball team. [On Friday night], I think we just got beat by a team that was red hot.”