Monday's college basketball: No. 16 Florida St routs No. 7 Virginia 81-60 in ACC showdown

Bob Ferrante
Associated Press
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Tallahassee, Fla. — M.J. Walker scored 17 points and No. 16 Florida State built a big first-half lead, beating No. 7 Virginia 81-60 on Monday night in a showdown between the top two teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

RaiQuan Gray had 15 points as the Seminoles (12-3, 8-2) handed 2019 national champion Virginia its worst ACC loss in four years. Walker made five of Florida State’s season-high 13 3-pointers on 24 attempts (54%).

“We can play anybody in the country when we’re locked in and focused on our opponent and the game plan and execute it,” Gray said. “We have to keep that focus the rest of the year.”

Gray scored in double figures for the seventh straight game. Florida State has won 24 consecutive ACC home games dating to a victory over Clemson on Jan. 22, 2019.

Trey Murphy III had 13 points and Kihei Clark added 12 in the second half for Virginia (15-4, 11-2), which had won four in a row.

Florida State has taken four of the last five meetings at home. But this one was surprisingly lopsided; it marked the Cavaliers’ largest ACC defeat since falling 65-41 at North Carolina on Feb. 18, 2017.

The Seminoles shot a robust 29 of 58 (50%) from the floor against one of the nation’s stingiest defensive programs.

“If you want a chance to beat a team of this caliber, or that is playing at this level in this setting, you can’t be sometimes really good defensively,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You’ve got to be all the time good in the areas that you have control over. You can’t control if they can make the big-time shot or an acrobatic play, but we can control if our defense is set, if we’re active on the ball, if we’re in position and not committing some lapse in judgment.”

Bennett dropped to 9-10 against Florida State.

Florida State jumped on the Cavaliers early. Gray and Walker had nine points apiece as the Seminoles went 6 of 10 from 3-point range on the way to a stunning 45-25 halftime lead.

Murphy’s 3-pointer closed the deficit to 48-41 with 14:24 left, but the Cavaliers couldn’t cut into the lead any further.

Florida State’s depth again was a big factor. Balsa Koprivica (nine points), Anthony Polite (eight), Scottie Barnes (seven) and Sardaar Calhoun (six) helped the Seminoles’ bench outscore Virginia’s reserves 37-20.

“We got a tremendous amount of energy from everyone who came in the game,” coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought that allowed us to play at a very, very high level for the entire game.”

Koprivica, a sophomore center, returned after turning his ankle pregame against Wake Forest. He pulled down three rebounds and hit his first 3-pointer of the season. That shot as well as an 18-footer were among the big baskets for Florida State in the second half.

Koprivica played the role of rim protector well, as Clark did most of his damage early in the second half when Koprivica was on the bench. Koprivica also blocked one of Clark’s second-half shots.

Virginia was sluggish early with eight first-half turnovers and couldn’t match Florida State’s energy. The Cavaliers had held the Seminoles under 70 points in the previous 19 meetings.

Florida State showed off its depth and defense, securing its biggest win of the season with the type of shooting efficiency Virginia usually displays. Eight players sank a 3 for the Seminoles. The only other team in the last 25 seasons to do that in a win over a top-10 team was Auburn in the 2019 NCAA regional semifinals against North Carolina, according to STATS.

Virginia probably won’t drop too far if it bounces back Saturday at Duke. Florida State showed it’s worthy of continuing its ascension, especially if it can add to its success against Virginia Tech this weekend.

Duke's Johnson leaves

Highly touted Duke freshman Jalen Johnson is forgoing the rest of the Blue Devils’ season and declaring for the NBA draft.

The school announced Johnson’s decision. The move was first reported by ZagsBlog.com.

Duke forward Jalen Johnson (1) drives to the basket during the second half of a game against Miami Feb. 1 in Coral Gables, Fla.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward was averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds, though he missed three games and significant practice time with a December foot injury in an unexpectedly bumpy season for the Blue Devils.

In a statement, the 19-year-old Johnson — considered by many a possible lottery prospect — said the decision came after consulting with family and coach Mike Krzyzewski to ensure he’s “100% healthy in preparation for the NBA draft.”

“This was not easy but we feel it’s best for my future,” Johnson said. “I have nothing but love for the Brotherhood and thank my teammates and everyone associated with the program. Duke will always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of me.”

The Blue Devils (8-8, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) ended a three-game losing streak by winning at North Carolina State on Saturday, though they remain at risk of missing their first NCAA Tournament since 1995. Johnson had three points in eight minutes while coming off the bench for the third straight game.

Afterward, Krzyzewski said Johnson was “knocked back” by the game’s physicality but added: “I have confidence in him. We’re going to keep working with him and he’ll have opportunities.”

Johnson was Duke’s highest-ranked recruit at No. 13 according to 247sports.com, and had 19 points with 19 rebounds in his debut against Coppin State. He had tougher times in December losses to Michigan State and Illinois before the injury that sidelined him more than a month. 

The highlight after his return was a huge game (24 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks) at Pittsburgh. Johnson finishes his Duke career with six double-figure scoring performances in 13 games.

Krzyzewski said last week the team was closely monitoring Johnson’s foot because “it could be a major factor in his career” if not handled well. 

Boston College fires coach

The basketball team that struggled to fill out a lineup as COVID-19 protocols chipped away at the roster lost coach Jim Christian when he was fired with three weeks remaining in his seventh season.

Boston College is 3-13 with just one win in 10 Atlantic Coast Conference games. Athletic director Pat Kraft said assistant Scott Spinelli will coach the team the rest of the season.

“I know that Jim gave everything that he had into leading our program and mentoring our student-athletes,” said Kraft, who inherited Christian from his predecessors. “Ultimately, the program is not headed in the right direction, and though I hesitate to make a midseason coaching change in any sport, now is the right time for us to look forward.”

Christian went 78-132 (26-94 ACC) in seven years at BC, struggling to recruit top talent and supplementing his roster with graduate transfers who showed promise. But he couldn’t elevate the school from the also-rans of the ACC, and the Big East before it.

The shallow roster proved devastating this season, when the Eagles were down to four available scholarship players because of positive coronavirus tests and the resulting contact tracing.

Once a stopping point for coaches like Bob Cousy, Chuck Daly, Tom Davis and Gary Williams, Boston College more recently has struggled to find someone who could restore the program to relevance.

BC, which has never reached the NCAA Final Four, made it to the regional final in 1994 under Jim O’Brien and won a first-round game in his final two seasons before he moved on to Ohio State. Al Skinner took over in 1997 and from 2001-10 took the Eagles to the tournament seven times.

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