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Syracuse men’s basketball stalls down the stretch in home loss to Florida State: ‘They wore us down’

Florida State’s depth and athleticism played a major factor in Syracuse’s first home defeat of the season.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team suffered its first home defeat of the season, falling to the Florida State Seminoles 85-69 on Tuesday night. Syracuse stalled down the stretch after competing hard for 32 minutes until Florida State eventually seized control of the game.

The Seminoles started the season slow without a clean bill of health but have turned around to start conference play strong, winning six of its last seven games. With Primo Spears eligible and back in the fold, Florida State — the tallest team in the country — sits second in the ACC at 6-2. The depth of Leonard Hamilton’s team was on display against Syracuse, not to mention its collective length and athleticism.

“They’ve been playing really good basketball recently,” Justin Taylor began. “That’s just who Florida State is. They’re always gonna have long, athletic guys and that took us out of a lot of our stuff. We got to be more level-headed with the ball, be tougher with it and get into our stuff.”

In a game that featured nine lead changes and seven ties, Syracuse held a narrow lead with 12 minutes to go. But Florida State soon gained command and wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way, finishing the game out-scoring Syracuse 34-15.

“I thought they wore us down,” Adrian Autry said. “Once the game got a little bit ahead I thought we kind of just ran out of gas and stopped guarding and defending.”

Leading scorer Jamir Watkins had a lot to do with that. The Trenton, NJ, native exploded for a career-high 27 points, 13 of which came in the game’s final 12 minutes. He was 2-3 from outside, but most of his work came around the basket.

“They just bullied us in the paint. Watkins,” Judah Mintz said, “he bullied us. ... Letting a dude get downhill for an entire game. I don’t know any guard, I can’t really remember that’s scored 27 on us off getting downhill all game.”

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

On the other side of the ball, the Syracuse offense turned cold. Driving lanes — especially in transition — were available for Mintz and JJ Starling for most of the night. Both guards were able to play through contact but Mintz in particular was able to use his tact in this game to draw contact. But down the stretch those foul calls stopped coming and the defensive intensity and athleticism of Florida State came to the forefront.

“They were opening up the lane for us every time. I think we kind of just got away from it. It hurt us. We started moving, standing around and waiting for others instead of moving and doing what we were doing in the first half,” Mintz stated.

“Offensively, we were in a stall. We couldn’t score and it was really a lot of us depending on Judah. It’s very tough to move the ball the way they are aggressive and playing over (passing) lanes. We just didn’t get good movement,” Autry said.

With athletes at every position, Florida State can afford to switch on all screens. Syracuse wasn’t able to take advantage of matchups in this game against tall, long athletes that in ordinarily would be able to against other teams. Autry said in those instances, the offense has to rely more on player movement — cutting, moving without the ball. He gave credit to Florida State for their aggressive defense, making catches difficult, denying passing lanes and of course, the Seminoles depth.

“They wore us down. The out-played us. Once they got the lead, they made shots. We picked the worst time to not make anything. We couldn’t make free throws, three point shots,” Autry said.

Syracuse, meantime, had its regular rotation interrupted with foul trouble. Quadir Copeland picked up two fouls in the first half and had to sit. Justin Taylor and Maliq Brown both picked up three fouls with over ten minutes to play. Mintz felt as if that threw the Orange out of rhythm. The Syracuse starting backcourt logged 75 out of 80 possible minutes.

On the opposite side, Leonard Hamilton played 12 guys against Syracuse — a staple of the Seminole program. Florida State is the tallest team in the country and 11 of those 12 players in rotation are 6-foot-5 or taller. That made competing difficult as the game wore on.

“That’s who Florida State is,” Taylor said. “They’re known for having depth, they’re known for having long, athletic guys. So that bothered us. I think we got a little tired toward the end of the game for sure. I think it was visible.”