FSU Loses at Pitt: 3 Game Changing Plays

Florida State lost their season opener Wednesday night, falling to Pitt by a score of 63-61. It was a sloppy game, which was expected. Only expediting the sloppiness was Teddy Valentine being the head official, and this led to all three of FSU’s available scholarship big men fouling out, Malik Osborne, Balsa Koprivica, and RaiQuan Gray.

Like we predicted in the preview, Dominik Olejniczak didn’t play, and he needs to be back as soon as possible, as does RayQuan Evans. Although I still think Anthony Polite can be a solid player in spurts, he isn’t the guy you want being your backup point guard. Evans was credited with two minutes of playing time, but I honestly think that’s a mistake, I never saw him in the game.

A couple of box score notes before we get into the game-changing plays:

Trent Forrest had a rough first half, but finished with the quietest 19 points you’ll ever see. He had 4 turnovers in the first half, but only one turnover the second half and was in total control of the situation. The last few possessions were iffy, but I’ll break them down later (spoilers).

Malik Osborne aka Mozzy is an energizer bunny. He was officially credited with 4 blocks, but definitely had 5, and finished with 9 rebounds and seemed like he was on the floor for every loose ball. He did a great job playing out of position in the post, and I want to see him down there more throughout the season.

Balsa Koprivica looked like a fish out of water. 5 fouls in 6 minutes is almost impressive. I said in the preview that winning the rebounding battle was imperative, and it ended up being tied for rebounds at 32. Florida State needed Balsa’s size to fight for rebounds, but he got into foul trouble way too fast. He’s a freshman in a rough environment in his first game ever and has a ton of potential, so he’ll definitely get better, but preferably sooner rather than later.

Devin Vassell is a serious candidate for ACC Most Improved Player. Dude was money when he wasn’t in foul trouble, finishing 6/7, hitting some unbelievably contested shots, and carrying the team throughout the first ten minutes of the second half. He needs more shots, because he simply doesn’t miss.

Alright, now to the plays.

Play 1

Situation: Pittsburgh has the ball down 40-35 with 10:52 remaining in the game.

Florida State had opened the game up just before this, breaking out to a 40-31 lead, a major lead in a game like this. Pitt made a layup and a couple of free throws to cut it to five, but Florida State very much still had the momentum on their side. Until this play. What was a good defensive possession ended in a crucial 3-pointer for Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t really anybody’s fault for FSU. Trey McGowens lasers a pass from the right corner across the court to the other corner, where Justin Champagnie was waiting and open.

I’m using “open” loosely here, check out this frame just before the pass is made (screenshot from WatchESPN).

Some fans may wonder why Champagnie’s man, #24 Devin Vassell, is all the way underneath the basket. Florida State runs a heavy help and deny defensive system, meaning Vassell is the last line of defense in case #21 Terrell Brown gets the ball over the top of MJ Walker. Walker is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing, fronting the post and denying an easy pass in, and knowing he has Vassell behind him to stop the over-the-top pass allows him to do this. Both Walker and Vassell are exactly where they need to be in this situation.

And now the pass is made.

Vassell closes out slightly short, probably because he knew his opponent. Champagnie is a true freshman, playing in his first career collegiate game. There were no stats provided for his senior season of high school, but his junior year he shot just 29% from 3pt range. What Vassell likely didn’t know is there are only 4 seconds on the shot clock, meaning this is Pitt’s best chance to get a good look.

Sure enough, Champagnie would drain it, and help close the gap to just 2.

Play 2

Situation: Florida State has the ball down 59-60 with 30 seconds left to go, Devin Vassell has the ball

Trent Forrest has become the go-to option in clutch situations, and they like this certain setup to get him going. The “hot-hand” player, which in this case had been Devin Vassell, gets the ball on the right-wing and acts as if he is isolating with his defender one-on-one. He will fake the drive, then come back towards Forrest while Forrest is moving towards the ball. As they cross, the hot-hand player will flip it back to Forrest who now has a full head of steam to allow him to drive the basket, while the two defenders have to instantly work out  if they are switching or staying home, and any hesitation puts Forrest in a great situation

On this play, Vassell drives right at first before trying to spin back to his left. Forrest has started moving towards Vassell, but Vassell trips and falls, leaving the play in an awkward situation.

Double-teamed and on the ground, the ball somehow finds its way to Forrest, who then puts up a bad shot from 13 feet with plenty of time left on the shot clock. The situation only worsened when Pitt’s Ryan Murphy grabbed the rebound, and RaiQuan Gray fouled him, giving Gray his fifth and final foul.

Play 3

Situation: Final Play, Fastbreak off of a missed FT

Trey McGowens was sent to the free-throw line with 7.5 seconds left. McGowens made the first, putting the lead at 2, but missed the 2nd. MJ Walker grabbed the rebound and pushed it ahead to Trent Forrest. Forrest crosses court and gets to the elbow. Here’s where he finds himself with 3.5 seconds left.

Many fans were clamoring after the game wondering why he didn’t attack the rim. If it was just one-on-one, Forrest absolutely would’ve attacked the basket, however, he sees the big, #21 Terrell Brown posted up in the paint waiting for Forrest. There are also two other defenders staring directly at Forrest, and Forrest sees this. His vision is as good as any guard’s in the country. Attacking the basket into double coverage at the least and quadruple coverage at the most is a mistake, especially considering the officiating hadn’t given Florida State any generous calls all night. He makes the good decision to pull up at the elbow, but it misses, and that happens.

The other good option would’ve been to hit Patrick Williams in the trail spot, as Williams’ man is Brown posted underneath the basket. Asking a true freshman in his first career game when he’d only made one shot all game to take the likely game-winning shot is a huge gamble, and you’d rather let your senior point guard take the shot.

I will stand by that Trent Forrest made the right decision to pull up where he did. He likely wants the shot back, but it was the right shot.

This is your reminder that this isn’t football season, and one loss doesn’t wreck the entire season. There are plenty of wins out there to chase, and this game showed a ton of promise. As soon as Olejniczak and Evans are healthy, the team will be that much better.

Florida State takes the floor again Sunday, November 10 at 1 pm against in-state rival Florida on ESPN. Stay tuned to NoleGameday for a game preview coming this weekend.

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