TALLAHASSEE, Fl. — The fifth-ranked Florida State men’s basketball team did its part in bringing the first sold-out crowd to the Donald L. Tucker Center in nearly a year on Saturday night.
That crowd then did its part helping to deliver an ear-splitting final few moments and a dramatic finish worth the price of admission.
After leading by as many as 14 points, the Seminoles found themselves clinging to a one-point advantage with 2.6 seconds on the clock and Notre Dame holding the ball.
But with everyone in the arena on their feet and a deafening chant of “Dee-fense” raining down, FSU kept the Irish away from the basket and forced an off-balance shot that fell harmlessly away as the clock hit zero.
When it did, the arena somehow got even louder as fans celebrated No. 5 FSU’s 85-84 win over Notre Dame – the Seminoles’ 10th victory in a row and 59th in their last 62 home games.
“I think we needed every yell that was coming from the stands,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said with a smile. “We needed all the energy that we could muster. That ball was bouncing around and I was on the sideline praying.
“So prayers were answered tonight.”
Matched up with one of the most 3-point heavy teams in the country, the Seminoles outdueled the Fighting Irish from distance by connecting on 12-of-18 3-point attempts – well above their season averages for 3-pointers made (7.4) and 3-point average (34.2).
And they did so thanks in large part to Wyatt Wilkes, the sharpshooting reserve who typically plays about eight minutes per game.
With freshman Patrick Williams out due to a toe injury, Wilkes stepped into an expanded role and more than delivered by scoring a team-high 19 points, connecting on 5-of-6 3-point attempts and even grabbing two rebounds in 19 minutes on the floor.
Wilkes, a redshirt sophomore from Orlando, matched his previous career high (14 points) by halftime.
“(Wilkes) gave us a tremendous lift,” Hamilton said. “I told our guys a couple weeks ago that when he leaves here, he’ll go down as one of the all-time best shooters in the history of our program. He’s showing his potential.”
Anthony Polite added three more 3-pointers for FSU, while Trent Forrest and RaiQuan Gray each scored 13 points.
Forrest, a senior from nearby Chipley, Fla., became the latest Seminole to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career.
And he did so in emphatic fashion, throwing down a heavy dunk in transition that was part of an 18-0 FSU run in the first half.
“That was definitely one of my goals, if I was here for four years,” Forrest said. “I’m glad to say I accomplished it.”
Forrest’s 1,000th point mattered to more than just the record books, as it came during a stretch that helped FSU turn around from a deflating start that threatened to spoil a night to celebrate all things Florida State basketball.
Playing with their highest ranking in a home game, and with both themselves and their fans dressed for a “blackout” game, the Seminoles trailed 15-4 a little more than four minutes into the game.
But, in a response that was as quick as it was impressive, the Seminoles came out of a timeout and reminded every one of the 11,500 fans in attendance why they showed up in the first place.
Starting with a layup from center Dominik Olejniczak, the Seminoles embarked on a 22-3 run – which included a stretch of 18 consecutive points – that led to a 13-point lead before halftime.
In the span of just three minutes, 50 seconds, FSU had turned what perhaps looked like a lopsided affair in Notre Dame’s favor into what could have been a rout for the home team.
Neither came to fruition.
Because despite leading by 14 points with 7:56 to play, cold shooting from FSU, combined with a steady parade of Notre Dame players to the free-throw line, helped the Irish get back in it.
Notre Dame made 22-of-27 free-throw attempts – compared to 13-of-14 for FSU – while the Seminoles missed their final nine shots over the last 5:16 of the game.
Even still, it didn’t seem like it would matter after Forrest made two free throws at the 27-second mark to stretch FSU’s lead to six points.
But an off-balance 3-pointer from Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb, followed by an FSU turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass and a quick Irish layup, cut that lead to just one in the span of only a second.
Then, when another inbounds turnover gave possession back to Notre Dame, the Seminoles suddenly were defending with the game on the line.
It was right about then that Hamilton started praying.
“I thought we had moments in the game where we played very, very good basketball,” Hamilton said. “And I thought we had moments in the game where our inexperience showed.
“And I thought it almost cost us.”
Almost, but not quite.
As he awaited Notre Dame’s final inbounds pass with 2.6 seconds to play, Forrest flashed back a year ago – to when the Seminoles let a one-point slip away at the buzzer against Duke.
Back then, FSU’s defenders lost track of a 3-point shooter and paid a painful price.
This time, every man was covered and the Irish had no choice but to take a desperate heave toward the basket.
“I had a flashback to Duke and I was just trying my best to not let that happen again,” Forrest said. “You’ve just got to kind of be on your toes, but also in the game plan.”
Irish coach Mike Brey thought his team might have deserved another trip to the free-throw line during the endgame sequence, but officials allowed for physical defense and the Seminoles – who first built their national reputation on defense a decade ago – got the stop they needed.
Aided, in no small part, by the capacity crowd making the building shake.
“There’s literally nothing like a Florida State basketball game when the fans are turned on like that,” Wilkes said. “In my opinion, we’ve got the best fans in the world.”