No. 4 FSU Survives No. 13 UNC Greensboro's Upset Bid, Advances to 2nd Round

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2021

Florida State's Balsa Koprivica (5) dunks against UNC-Greensboro's Mohammed Abdulsalam (4) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Banker's Life Fieldhouse, Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The fourth-seeded Florida State Seminoles staved off multiple comeback attempts from the gritty No. 13 UNC Greensboro Spartans on Saturday in the first round of the 2021 NCAA men's college basketball tournament, scoring a 64-54 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

With the win, FSU moved on to the second round in the East Region, marking the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament in which it has reached at least the round of 32.

The Seminoles struggled offensively for much of the game, shooting 0-of-9 from long range, but RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica came through with a combined 30 points.

Also, head coach Leonard Hamilton's defense was suffocating throughout, holding the Spartans to 31.7 percent shooting from the field and 25.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while also forcing 10 turnovers and winning the rebounding battle 41-33


Notable Stats

RaiQuan Gray, F, FSU: 17 PTS on 8-of-13 FG, 7 REB, 3 AST

Balsa Koprivica, C, FSU: 11 PTS on 6-of-10 FG, 11 REB

Isaiah Miller, G, UNCG: 17 PTS on 7-of-18 FG, 5 REB, 4 AST

Keyshaun Langley, G, UNCG: 16 PTS on 5-of-10 FG, 3 AST


Lockdown Defense Carries FSU to Victory

After allowing a somewhat pedestrian 70.3 points per game this season entering the NCAA tournament, the Seminoles ratcheted up their defensive intensity in a big way Saturday.

Facing a UNCG team that ranks 254th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 42.4 percent, FSU took advantage in a big way.

The Seminoles jumped out to a 23-7 lead in the first half and gave the Spartans very little room to work with. Barstool FSU showered praise on the Seminoles for their defensive effort in the early going:

Barstool FSU @FSU_Barstool

This is the best defense I’ve seen us play all year and there is not a better time to be playing it🔥

WCTV's Will Desautelle and Jake Marsh of Pardon My Take noted that a combination of smothering defense and poor shooting helped build the early Florida State lead:

Will Desautelle @wdesautelle

UNCG hasn't been a good shooting team all year, but they have been brutal so far. #FSU holding them to just 3 of 17 from the field (1 of 9 3s). Some of that is the #FSU size and length being disruptive but the Spartans have had a few clean looks that have just been way off.

Jake Marsh @PMTsportsbiz

UNC Greensboro is missing layups and air-balling wide open threes. Analysis: That does not help your chance at pulling off an upset.

Koprivica was among the biggest difference-makers on both ends of the floor for Florida State, as evidenced by this big dunk he threw down in the opening half:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Just throw it up for Koprivica 👀 https://t.co/hyAtX8lgbe

The game appeared to be well in hand for Florida State, but things started to go south as the first half progressed, leading to the game tightening significantly.

A 19-6 UNC Greensboro run left Florida State ahead by just three at the half, and Florida State's inability to take care of the basketball played a big role in the Spartans getting back in it.

It would have been easy for FSU to fold and succumb to an upset loss like so many highly seeded teams did Friday, but the Seminoles clearly made some strong adjustments at halftime and went back to work on the defensive end.

That led to a 14-2 run early in the second half, which went a long way toward putting the game back out of reach in the Seminoles' favor.

Florida State's ability to rebound from a rough end to the first half matched the grit of its head coach, as Hamilton coached through a torn Achilles:

CBS Sports @CBSSports

You didn't think a ruptured Achilles was gonna stop Leonard Hamilton from leading @FSUHoops did you? https://t.co/NjXrjMeq9n

FSU experience another lull at around the midway point of the second half, allowing UNC Greensboro to get back within one, although the Spartans were unable to tie it or pull ahead, speaking to the Seminoles ability to hunker down in big moments.

It wasn't necessarily a beautiful performance from an FSU team that struggled from deep after leading the ACC in three-point shooting percentage during the regular season, but continuing to thrive on the defensive end should serve the Seminoles well moving forward.

Florida State also figures to get more out of ACC Freshman and Sixth Man of the Year Scottie Barnes than the four points, four rebounds and five turnovers it did Saturday, which is why there is reason for optimism as the tournament progresses.


UNCG Comeback Excites, Then Fizzles

Early returns Saturday suggested that the Spartans were overmatched and likely to get blown out, but UNC Greensboro showed a lot of fight in making things interesting.

A 16-point deficit against one of the top teams in the ACC seemed insurmountable. However, the Southern Conference champions took advantage of some FSU miscues and got back in the game.

In the midst of Florida State stringing together several turnovers, the Spartans gained confidence, and an alley-oop inbounds dunk from Isaiah Miller helped raise the energy level as well:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

This Isaiah Miller lob is absurd 🤯 https://t.co/oXdUfJLgr1

That dunk was a catalyst for UNCG, as it closed the half on a 19-6 run and trailed by only a 29-26 margin at halftime.

Curt Weiler of the Tallahassee Democrat noted that Florida State made a huge error in not putting the Spartans away when it had the chance:

Curt Weiler @CurtMWeiler

#FSU let UNC Greensboro hang around when the Spartans weren't hitting anything and they've got a game now. UNCG on a 19-6 run to cut #FSU's lead to 29-26 with 36.9 left in the half.

The Spartans tied it early in the first half and seemed to have FSU on the ropes, but the Seminoles bounced back and reinstated a double-digit lead with a 14-2 run.

It once again looked like UNC Greensboro was dead to rights. However, the Spartans rose again and put another scare into Florida State:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

No. 13 UNCG is fighting back 😳 Watch to see if they can pull off the upset on FSU https://t.co/mnQkoyB6Qp https://t.co/hDoaSP4IFN

Corey Clark of WarChant.com pointed out that an untimely turnover helped spur the second comeback, as was the case during the first half as well:

Corey Clark @Corey_Clark

Every time FSU seems to be on verge of taking control a terrible turnover happens. Barnes’ baseball pass, up 9, after just getting a stop qualifies. Was stolen and led to wide open 3.

The Spartans managed to whittle Florida State's lead all the way down to one due in part to a ridiculous block and save on one end followed by a floater on the other by Miller:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

UNCG's Isaiah Miller is taking over 🔥 https://t.co/rQFo8OLSJM

Momentum was once again with UNCG just as it was at the end of the first half, but the talented and experienced Seminoles wouldn't break despite bending quite a bit.

Gray, Koprivica and M.J. Walker came through with some huge baskets down the stretch for FSU, allowing the Seminoles to avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.


What's Next?

Thanks to Saturday's win, Florida State will move on to face the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes in the second round on Monday after Colorado beat No. 12 Georgetown 96-73 in the first round Saturday.