You can't really blame guys for forgetting something. Who among us wouldn't be excited to escape South Bend and the polar vortex for the Florida sunshine? In all that excitement, it looked as though Mike Brey's Fighting Irish basketball team forgot to pack their defense for the trip to Tallahassee.
In a first half that featured Florida state shooting 64% from the field and a blistering 71% from deep, the Irish were fortunate to be only down 8 going in to halftime. They were even more fortunate to climb back in the game late after some poor shot selection by the Seminoles. At one point, Leonard Hamilton's squad made 9 consecutive FG's. In the end, FSU shot 29-50 from the floor, including 8-16 from behind the arc. For those scoring at home, that's a 66% eFG for the game, and that was dragged down dramatically by FSU going only 4-11 after the under-8-minute media timeout in the second half. Letting a team shoot over 60% eFG on their home floor is usually a recipe for disaster, but somehow the Irish hung in and made it a one-possession game in the end. Unfortunately, when they most needed a stop, they couldn't find one, and FSU's Ian Miller scored his 10th and 11th points of the evening with 4.0 seconds remaining to make the final difference. Atkins had a desperation heave at the end, but it clanged off the rim, and the Irish sunk to 11-8 and 2-4 in league play. One has to wonder if the Irish coaching staff could have benefited from a timeout after the FSU make to set up something for that final shot instead of relying on Atkins to freelance it, but since they meaninglessly burned it before the under-4-minute media stoppage, we'll never know.
The Irish rely on their veteran core. Between Eric Atkins, Garrick Sherman, and Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame can absorb one of them being "off" on their home floor vs. a lower tier team - like they did vs. the Hokies. However, on the road, that isn't the case. Tonight, it was Connaughton's turn to struggle. Pat made 2 for his first 11 shots and only 2 of 4 from the line. He played a solid floor game with 10 rebounds and finished a huge drive to tie the game and end up 3-12 form the field. Sadly for Notre Dame, it was a little too little a little too late.
Eric Atkins regained his stroke - finishing over 50% from the floor for a team-high 24 points and 5 dimes. Atkins seemed less intent on forcing his shot and more aggressive on the dribble tonight than in the previous few games. I wrote in my game notes that Atkins makes Sherman so much better when he's aggressive with the ball. When Atkins is pressing the defense and moving the defense, it makes Sherman so much more effective. When Sherman is asked to play against a set defense, that's when he gets in trouble by forcing the issue. When Atkins is aggressive and forces defenses to rotate and help, Sherman becomes much more dangerous finding cracks and seams to work free.
I was rough on Sherman after the VT game, so the senior deserves some credit for his 21 point, 10 rebound performance in Tallahassee. If you dig a little deeper, it is worth noting that only 3 of those rebounds were on the defensive end and he committed a back-breaking turnover on an out-of-bounds play right after the Irish cut the Seminole lead to 2 with three minutes left in the game.
This game had a little bit of everything. Stretches of the game where our defense went missing, cold shooting by normally reliable guys, questionable officiating that improved after Brey got rung up (again), and very questionable clock/game management by the Irish head coach down the stretch. In golf, we have a saying: they don't put pictures on the scorecard. Any way you look at it, this is another loss by an Irish team that could ill afford it. Mike Brey and his team have until Saturday and their trip to Winston-Salem to think it over and get it straight. It is in the 30's and a little snowy here in NC right now, so perhaps they'll be more inclined to bring the defense with them.