Florida State sinks Notre Dame in Tallahassee again
In his first game in a month, Anthony Polite hit the final 3 to help Florida State beat Notre Dame.
The redshirt senior guard, who fractured his wrist on Feb. 2, returned to Florida State's lineup Wednesday and sank a 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining to give the Seminoles the cushion required to hold on to a 74-70 home conference victory in Tallahassee.
It was the last 3-pointer in a game that included 12 of them for Florida State. The Seminoles, who entered the game hitting 33.7% of their shots from long range, opened the game making their first five 3s. Polite providing the dagger from distance to take a 72-67 lead felt fitting.
"That's a big shot," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "That's a hard shot. That's a little bit like some of the shots (ND guard Prentiss) Hubb has hit to kind of say, 'You're not getting us tonight.' They earned it."
Florida State finished 12-of-29 (41.4%) from 3 on night in which the Seminoles (16-13, 9-10 ACC) were missing their top three scorers: Caleb Mills (12.7 points per game), Matthew Cleveland (11.4) and Malik Osborne (10). It didn't matter.
Freshman John Butler stepped up to lead Florida State with 16 points including four 3s. Polite and seniors RayQuan Evans and Tanor Ngom each scored 12 points for an offense that was slightly more accurate outside of the arc than inside it (41.4% to 41%).
"They were a really good team in January when they had all their bodies," Brey said. "Now it's a little bit like, 'Tonight we have nothing to lose. We're just going to fire.'
"You could feel it coming when they made the first two (3's)."
Notre Dame (21-9, 14-5) quickly matched Polite's clutch 3-pointer when graduate forward Paul Atkinson Jr. made a layup through contact and made the following free throw. But Notre Dame failed to corral a defensive rebound that bounced out of bounds after forcing an Evans miss.
The Irish were forced to foul Evans after an inbounds pass. He hit his free throws with nine seconds remaining to all but seal the game. Florida State's last five points came after offensive rebounds.
"It's frustrating," Brey said. "You look at it at the end and you go, 'You really don't deserve to win if you can't control it.'"
Despite Florida State having a size advantage inside, the Irish only grabbed four fewer rebounds on the night. But the inability to clean the glass late haunted Notre Dame in a place the Irish have never won. Wednesday's loss moved Notre Dame to 0-6 in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Notre Dame's offensive attack relied too much on freshman guard Blake Wesley and Atkinson. Wesley scored 21 points on 21 field goal attempts. Atkinson added 17 points by grabbing 6 of his 10 rebounds on the offensive end.
Prentiss Hubb struggled from the field (4-of-12) and from 3 (1-of-6) on his way to 10 points. Fellow senior guard Dane Goodwin, who averages 14.4 points, was held to just 6 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
In the second half, Wesley and Atkinson accounted for 17 of Notre Dame's 26 points. Hubb was the only other player to score more than two points in the second half.
Notre Dame's 3-point shooting couldn't keep pace with Florida State. The Irish finished 5-of-19 (26.3%) from deep after missing all 10 attempts in the second half.
Notre Dame will return home Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST on ESPNews) to play Pittsburgh (11-19, 6-13) to close out the regular season. A Notre Dame win would clinch the No. 2 seed in next week's ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Irish could still be seeded second with a loss to Pittsburgh and a North Carolina loss at Duke on Saturday.
Wednesday night's loss hasn't shaken Brey's confidence.
"We can dream big dreams in the postseason, because I think they're realistic," Brey said. "We'll see if we can play well for our seniors on Saturday and then set the tone for Brooklyn.
"Disappointed, but we flushed it quick. I love the position we're in. We gave ourselves a chance. Florida State made some big-time plays here."
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