Vassell, Mann Lead FSU Men Past Notre Dame, 68-61

FSU freshman Devin Vassell scored 13 points
Posted at 5:02 PM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 17:02:30-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State spent much of the second half against Notre Dame Monday night on the verge of a rally that would erase a seven-point deficit and provide a ninth win in 10 tries.

When the Seminoles finally did pull ahead, they spent the remainder of the game treating the Fighting Irish in kind.

FSU freshman Devin Vassell scored 13 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer, and the No. 18 Seminoles held Notre Dame at arm’s length the rest of the way for a 68-61 victory in front of 9,519 fans at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

Notre Dame, now 13-15 and 3-12 in ACC play, led by as many as 10 points in the first half and eight in the second before giving way to the deeper, more capable Seminoles (22-6, 10-5).

Florida State has won 10 ACC games for the eighth time in school history and sixth time under coach Leonard Hamilton.

“Just keep pushing,” senior Terance Mann said. “We knew eventually it would happen for us if we just (kept) doing what we do.”

Which is to say that the Seminoles once again flexed the strength of its depth and wore down a weary opponent.

Florida State, as usual, saw 10 players check in to the game, with eight logging at least 12 minutes. Notre Dame’s rotation only went to seven, each of whom played at least 14 minutes.

As a result, the Seminoles’ defense got more and more suffocating as the game went on.

Beginning at the 6:42 mark of the second half – just seconds before Vassell hit his fateful 3-pointer – the Fighting Irish made just two of their final 13 shots.

And after making eight of their first 16 3-pointers, well above their season average of 31.5 percent, the Irish missed their next six from distance.

“I thought we ramped it up defensively late and in periods during the game,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t sustain that effort the entire game, but when we had to, I thought we got the deflections and steals and the stops.”

Added Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: “I’m really impressed with Florida State. They’ve got great poise and they made plays when they had to because they’ve won a lot.”

Indeed, on a night when the Seminoles weren’t always at their best, they still managed a handful of plays that looked as good on the highlight reel as they did in the box score.

There were big dunks from Mann (eight points, six rebounds) and Christ Koumadje (12, five), slick, no-look feeds from M.J. Walker, and a handful of 3-point shots that came as the result of one more pass.

None of those, though, quite stacked up with the sequence that Vassell and Mann combined for late in the second half.

It began with Vassell emphatically throwing down a putback dunk that cut FSU’s deficit to just one. A moment later, he grabbed a defensive rebound, hustled down the floor and brought in a feed from Mann before pulling up for the breakthrough 3-pointer at the top of the key.

It was yet another promising moment in a season full of them for Vassell, who became the team’s ninth different leading scorer of the season last week at Georgia Tech.

“He’s playing like a veteran now,” Hamilton said. “He’s very confident.”

Even with their first lead in nearly 15 minutes of game time, the Seminoles couldn’t quite pull away from a Notre Dame team desperate for a win that might salvage something positive from a lost season.

The Irish hung around, tying the game once and trailing by no more than five, for the next four-plus minutes. That’s when Mann finally slammed the door on the Irish with another second-chance dunk that might make for a late addition to “Sportscenter’s” nightly top-10 countdown:
“That’s just a freak of nature play,” Brey said.“I just saw an opportunity and took it,” Mann added. “When you’re in a game like that, you’ve just got to make winning plays. It’s not your own stats or whatever. You’ve just got to worry about winning.”

After the game, Hamilton said that veteran assistant Dennis Gates scouted the Irish, and that his pre-game report suggested that the best route for the Seminoles to have success would be for everyone to contribute a small part, rather than have one or two players do all the heavy lifting.

And when Hamilton looked at the box score, that’s exactly what he saw:

No Seminole scored more than 13 points but no one who played at least five minutes scored fewer than three points, either.

Mfiondu Kabengele had 10, M.J. Walker nine, Mann and Trent Forrest eight, David Nichols five and P.J. Savoy three.

“We didn’t have anybody have a ‘lights-out’ game, but we had a lot of guys contributing,” Hamilton said. “That’s kind of who we are.”