No. 25 Seminoles look to shake off late collapse
No. 25 Florida State and Illinois came to New York with hopes of continuing hot starts and winning the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Those hopes came crashing down in a pair of brutal Thanksgiving Day defeats on Thursday.
Now the Seminoles and Illini will meet Friday in the third-place game of the Tip-Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In the case of the Seminoles (4-1), they blew an 18-point second-half lead against Temple. Florida State then lost in the final seconds after forward Jonathan Isaac missed a wide open layup that would put them ahead by a point and likely sealed the win.
The Seminoles were last ranked at the beginning of the 2012-13 season and when the new rankings are released Monday, they will likely be unranked.
The Seminoles had been averaging 96.7 points a game before Thursday's 89-86 loss, and they looked well on their way to another big outing after jumping out to a 41-31 lead at the break.
“We did a lot of nice things,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the loss. “We just didn't do enough.”
Hamilton was pleased that leading scorers Dwayne Bacon, who led the Seminoles on Thursday with 22 points, and Isaac (19 points) both continue to flourish offensively in the early part of the season, but the defensive intensity has to improve.
“When we play teams that shoot the ball well, we have to do a much better job defensively,” said Hamilton of Temple's 55 percent shooting. “But one game doesn't define a season. It means you got a lot of stuff to work on.”
Illinois' second consecutive loss, meanwhile, was an entirely different kind of bad.
The Illini (4-2) fell behind 48-29 at halftime, and — rather than make a push to get back in the game — fell apart and trailed by as many as 39 points in the second half.
Illinois coach John Groce called the loss embarrassing, but he was more displeased with how his team handled West Virginia's smothering press, which has earned the Mountaineers' defense the nickname “Press Virginia.”
Illinois turned the ball over a staggering 24 times in the blowout loss, and Michael Finke (13 points) was the only starter in double figures. Leading scorer Malcolm Hill was held to seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and in the last two games, he is shooting 6-of-25.
“Our coaches have been working on this press since August, running six-on-five and even some seven-on-five drills, and we did it because we knew we were playing them,” Groce said. “We were good in practice but in real-time speed it was a lot different.”
Florida State and Illinois will now try to shake those defeats Friday in hopes of carrying momentum into a big week of more tests for both programs.
Florida State returns to Tallahassee on Monday to face Minnesota in the kickoff of ACC/Big Ten Challenge, while the Illini will face ACC foe North Carolina State on Tuesday, followed by a date with mid-major power VCU on Saturday.