WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Florida State’s already dim NCAA Tournament hopes appeared to be fading away when Wake Forest took a 16-point lead in the first half of Saturday night’s game between two struggling ACC teams.
But the Seminoles rallied thanks to explosive performances from two of their top offensive threats.
Ian Miller came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points, Aaron Thomas snared a career-high 14 rebounds to go with his 19 points, and FSU came back to beat the Demon Deacons 67-60 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"A lot of people would give up," Miller said of the early deficit. "It was, We’ve got to get this done. We can’t leave out of here with a loss. Let’s take this game over, chip at it one play at a time.’"
That was precisely what the Seminoles (15-10, 6-7 ACC) did. They got back to within six points by halftime; took their first lead at 39-37 with 12:18 to play on a jumper by Devon Bookert; and made a final, decisive 8-0 surge in the late stages when Wake Forest tied the game at 55-55 with 3:48 to go.
It was Miller, a senior guard, whose 3-pointer with 2:12 left gave Florida State a 61-55 advantage and sent the fans toward the exits. Thomas added a pair of free throws in the final minute to end any doubt about the outcome– two of his 12 points in the second half.
"They’ve been doing that all year long. They’ve been our two most effective offensive players," said Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton. "Even when they’ve come off the bench, they’ve played 30 minutes a game all year long."
"They both came to play today. Aaron gave us tremendous energy and some rebounds we really needed. Obviously, Ian gave us a big offensive push."
It was the first road win for FSU since a 63-53 victory at Miami on Jan. 15. The Seminoles had lost five of their previous six games before Saturday’s contest and badly needed a victory to remain on the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
The Seminoles earned Saturday’s win thanks to an offense that attacked the interior in the second half and a dominant rebounding performance.
After making only 26.9 percent (7-of-26) of its shots from the field in the first half, Florida State shot a blistering 64 percent in the second half (16-of-25). The Seminoles outrebounded Wake Forest 41-27, and of FSU’s 67 points, 48 came either in the paint or at the free throw line.
"You’re not going to win a lot of games if you’re not defending and rebounding for all 40 minutes," said Demon Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team lost its fifth consecutive game and third in a row at home.
But in the opening stages, it appeared it was Florida State whose recent struggles would continue.
Wake Forest (14-11, 4-8 ACC) took control early with a 12-0 run, as guard Coron Williams scored seven quick points to push the Deacons to a 21-6 lead. The advantage grew to as many as 16 points at 24-8 on a Tyler Cavanaugh 3-pointer.
But FSU responded, getting back to within 29-23 by halftime. Its 12-2 spurt was fueled by a momentum-altering technical foul called on the Deacons’ Devin Thomas. Florida State scored the game’s next eight points to begin its turnaround.
"In the guts of the game, we simply couldn’t get a timely stop or get a timely shot to go down," Bzdelik said.
Williams led Wake Forest with 18 points and three assists. Cavanaugh and forward Travis McKie added 14 points each for the Demon Deacons.