TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a matchup of two star freshmen with NBA aspirations, score this round to Jonathan Isaac and the Florida State Seminoles.
Three days removed from a quiet outing against Clemson, Isaac roared back with 21 points and seven rebounds to lift No. 14 FSU to a 95-71 rout of the North Carolina State Wolfpack in front of 9,432 fans at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Isaac outdueled NC State freshman Dennis Smith Jr., a potential lottery pick who on Wednesday matched a season-low with just eight points.
“This game, I felt like I came out a little more aggressively,” Isaac said. “My teammates found me and I made shots.”
Dwayne Bacon added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Terance Mann flirted with a double-double (eight points, 10 boards) for FSU, which has won three straight to improve to 21-4 overall and 9-4 in the ACC. With five games to play, the Seminoles have already surpassed their conference win total from each of the last two seasons.
NC State (14-11, 3-9) dropped its fourth consecutive game.
“I thought that the effort was a direct reflection of the respect we had for them,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We knew we had to do something to not give them the opportunity to get those wide open looks.”
In front of nearly two dozen professional scouts, Isaac scored FSU’s first seven points as the Seminoles built a double-digit lead less than seven minutes into the game.
And he scored from all over the floor, knocking down 3-pointers, dunks and mid-range shots on his way to a 60-percent shooting night.
Perhaps his most impressive sequence came late in the first half, when he drove to his left and, after being fouled, lost his balance and threw up a prayer of a layup attempt on his way to the floor.
The shot rolled in, Isaac added the ensuing free throw and FSU led 41-21 with 3:41 to go in the first half. The Seminoles would eventually lead by as much as 26.
“I tried to keep my eye on the basket and just get it up there,” Isaac said with a grin. “When that’s going in, you know you’re having a good night.”
The same could not be said for NC State’s Smith, the talented guard who came into Wednesday’s game with two triple-doubles and a pair of 30-point games this season.
Led by an aggressive effort from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the Seminoles harassed and hounded Smith all night, often bringing a second defender to double-team him even as he carried the ball down the floor.
With the Seminoles funneling the ball out of Smith’s hands, he finished the first half with zero points on 0 of 4 shooting.
“Our game plan was to be as disruptive as possible,” Hamilton said. “…There’s very few times that you face a guy who potentially is as dominating as this youngster is. He’s outstanding.”
By the time the Wolfpack adjusted in the second period, it was too late to mount a rally of any significance.
Smith, who entered the game averaging nearly 20 points per contest, took just eight shots and made only four of them, although he did contribute eight assists. Terry Henderson led the Wolfpack with 17 points, while Maverick Rowan and Abdul-Malik Abu each chipped in 16.
“(Smith) is one of the top scorers in our league, and I wanted to take the challenge upon myself,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I’ve been given the assignment to be the one who starts our defense, to be the head of our defense, to be a guy that is constantly turning people in the backcourt, constantly putting pressure on opposing offenses. And I’ve taken that to heart.”
NC State went on one extended run – a 13-3 swing midway through the second half – that cut FSU’s lead to 16 points with 7:34 to go. Otherwise, the Seminoles never had much to worry about.
That’s thanks in large part to an overwhelming advantage on the glass, where FSU outrebounded the Wolfpack 49-25 and turned 21 offensive boards into 19 second-chance points.
Mann’s 10 rebounds led the Seminoles, but Bacon (nine), Isaac (seven), and Michael Ojo (six) weren’t far behind.
Of the 13 Seminoles to play on Wednesday, all but three grabbed at least one rebound.
“I thought today the difference in the game was their rebounding,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They’ve got length, they’ve got depth, they’re big on the perimeter, on the wings. Today, I just thought they whipped us on the glass.”
FSU also took care of the ball, racking up 20 assists against just seven turnovers.
Three of those assists belonged to Ojo, the senior center known more for his physical presence than for his deft touch with the ball. He nearly matched a season high with 11 points and six rebounds.
Up next for FSU is a visit to No. 19 Notre Dame on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2). The Seminoles won the previous meeting between the two, 83-80, in Tallahassee on Jan. 18.
The Irish on Tuesday snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Wake Forest.
“We’ve got to be very focused going in to South Bend because they kind of hit a little skid, like most teams do,” Hamilton said. “They’re going to be very hungry for a victory.”