Predicted in the preseason to finish in fifth and 10th place, respectively, in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida State and North Carolina State have flipped those positions in the standings entering their Wednesday matchup in Raleigh, N.C.
While NC State (17-5, 7-4 ACC) has risen behind a trio of active, disruptive backcourt players, Florida State (7-15, 5-6) has fallen because of a spate of injuries.
The Seminoles started the season with just five returning scholarship players available, then in early December lost blossoming interior player Cam’Ron Fletcher for the year because of a knee injury.
But help has come to the Seminoles’ decimated frontcourt in the form of 6-foot-11 freshman Baba Miller, who was suspended for the first 16 games.
With Miller in the lineup, the Seminoles notched their first two road wins of the year, beating Notre Dame and Pitt. Then on Saturday, they threw a scare into Clemson.
In the closing seconds, the ACC-leading Tigers’ Chase Hunter drove three quarters of the length of the floor, converting a layup and hitting a go-ahead free throw to help Clemson escape Tallahassee. Fla., with an 82-81 victory.
It ruined the good work done by Matthew Cleveland (18 points), Caleb Mills (15 points) and Darin Green Jr. (14 points, five assists).
“Our four-guard lineup was challenged more by our inability to get those key rebounds,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said of his team’s 38-27 disadvantage on the boards.
NC State enters in fine form having won six of its last seven, including a 79-77 verdict Saturday at Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack trailed by 10 early in the second half but rallied behind DJ Burns Jr., who scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Jarkel Joiner (17 points) and Terquavion Smith (16 points).
In the last few weeks, the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns has played an increased role, providing a skilled, big body presence in the low post.
“He’s really tough to guard. … He catches it off the block. He maneuvers,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “If you trap him and we’re making shots, he made two incredible passes that led to 3-pointers. They probably helped us win the game.”
NC State was clutch again, improving to 5-0 in games decided by five or fewer points.
–Field Level Media