Virginia fell in a heartbreaker to No. 9 Florida State in Tallahassee Wednesday night, losing 54-50. The Cavaliers (11-5, 3-3 ACC) had a three-point lead late, but the Seminoles (15-2, 5-1 ACC) sank two three-pointers late to come away with the victory.
Florida State came out swinging in the first half, as sophomore guard Devin Vassell hit a wide-open three-pointer in the Seminoles’ first possession. Virginia senior forward Mamadi Diakite responded with a quick jumper off the glass, but Florida State subsequently embarked on a 9-2 run sparked by a converted and-one by star senior guard Trent Forrest.
Recognizing the Seminoles’ increased tempo, the Cavaliers worked to slow down the game, forcing Florida State to take low percentage shots while attempting to find seams in the Seminole defense. With this adjustment, Virginia was able to score six straight points to narrow Florida State’s lead to 12-10 with 14:37 to play in the first half.
However, the two teams then proceeded to enter a scoring drought for the next 3:49, as the Cavaliers forced the Seminoles to commit three turnovers, while Florida State forced a poor three-point shooting team in Virginia to take shots from behind the arc.
Diakite ended the scoring drought with a jumper to knot the game at 12-12, as the two teams rediscovered their footing on offense and started to trade baskets. At 9:33, Diakite sank another mid-range to give Virginia its first lead of the game at 14-12, but Florida State sophomore guard Anthony Polite converted a layup to tie the game back up.
Junior forward Jay Huff responded with a layup off an assist by sophomore guard Kihei Clark, catalyzing a 10-6 run by Virginia that gave the Cavaliers a 24-20 lead with 4:56 to go in the first half.
Nevertheless, Florida State began to catch onto Virginia’s cuts and movement in the paint, forcing six turnovers by the Cavaliers while scoring 11 straight points to go up 31-24 after 20 minutes of play.
Although Virginia kept pace with Florida State for much of the first-half — converting 48 percent of its field goals — the Cavaliers went an abysmal 0-for-8 from the three-point arc as their struggles from deep continued. The Seminoles, on the other hand, had a marksman from three in Polite, who sank all three of his three-point attempts in the first-half.
Virginia started the first half rejuvenated, going on a 7-2 run powered by five points from Diakite and cutting the Seminoles lead to 33-31 after three minutes of play. The teams continued to sparingly exchange baskets while battling in this defensive slugfest, until a free throw by senior guard Braxton Key tied the game at 35-35 with 13:10 to play. Less than two minutes later, Clark and Seminole freshman forward Patrick Williams exchanged baskets to make it 37-a-piece.
With 10:14 left, freshman guard Casey Morsell stole the ball from Polite and sprinted down the court — looking to give Virginia some much needed momentum. However, Williams chased down Morsell and delivered a huge block, which led to a three-pointer by junior guard M.J. Walker on the other side of the court.
This three was part of a 7-2 run by Florida State, as they extended their lead to 44-39 with 7:37 to play. Nonetheless, the defending national champions rattled off eight straight points in the subsequent 4:26, going up 47-44. The Seminoles then responded with Polite’s fourth three of the night with 2:27 to play, and a subsequent offensive foul by Clark gave the ball back to Florida State.
After two free throws by Forrest, junior guard Tomas Woldetensae committed a costly turnover as he failed to bring the ball past half court, and Vassell made Virginia pay with a corner three. Despite the fact that Woldetensae responded with a three of his own, it was too little too late, as the Cavaliers fell to the Seminoles 54-50.
Virginia showed immense fight in this game — coming off of two losses to unranked opponents — but made numerous mistakes, preventing them from leaving Tallahassee with the win. Clark struggled for stretches with ball security, committing nine turnovers, while players like Key and Morsell missed wide-open threes.
The Cavaliers will look to snap their three-game losing streak Saturday night in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Tip-off is slated for 8:00 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.