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Incompetent sniping, officiating doom No. 11 FSU basketball vs. Pitt

The No. 11 Florida State basketball team (13-4, 1-3) is officially mired in its first losing streak of the 2018-2019 season after dropping a 75-62 road game against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Monday night. But you know that this program has come a long way when consecutive losses took this long to occur, and one of them happened against No. 1 Duke. And that losing streak consists of two games.

Listen. It’s a long season. If you want to take a few days worth of basketball, extrapolate them out, and offer a definitive conclusion as to what a team of 18-22 year-olds is or is not, then go right ahead. If you think this team is guaranteed another Elite-8 run because of all the pieces it returns, congrats, you’re wrong. If you think this team is garbage because shots just aren’t falling right now and losing to an unranked team hurts, congrats, you’re wrong.

This is college basketball, which is comprised of a very long season with peaks and valleys. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But enough cliches, let’s get to how this loss occurred.

The Seminoles got off to a nice start, jumping out to a 6-0 lead behind a Phil Cofer three and Pitt starting 0-8 from the floor. The Panthers’ offensive strategy was clear: take the ball to the rim, challenge the ’Noles, and hope for the best. And that strategy was rewarded. Not by proficiency in finishing, as Pittsburgh had just 20 points in the paint and shot 35% from the floor. And it’s not like the Panthers punished FSU from deep when the ’Noles collapsed in on penetration, as they made only 29% of their threes (5-17).

The reward came in the form of consistently favorable whistles. Now listen, I hate putting things on the officiating. It’s typically a copout. But it’s also part of my job to recap what happened in this game, and the refs were a major factor. At the under-12 media timeout of the first half, Pitt led 13-12, despite Florida State holding a 56%-25% shooting edge. Part of that was on FSU, which committed four turnovers in the game’s first five minutes. But the ’Noles largely solved their turnover issues thereafter, committing a total of 12 the entire game, the same as Pitt. So that wasn’t really it.

Pitt switched to zone for the rest of the half to dare FSU to shoot from outside— a very smart move, but more on that later. At the final media timeout of the first half, the score was tied at 28, even though the Seminoles were doubling up the Panthers in shooting, 52%-26%. So how was this dead even? Pitt made its first 15 shots from the line, and had shot 20 at intermission, good enough for a 36-34 lead.

Still, FSU was right in this thing during game action, finishing right next to the Panthers in overall FG% (34%-35%). So that’s another push. So how did Pittsburgh forge a 13-point win after losing the paint scoring (30-20), bench scoring (20-12), and second-chance points (18-7)?

Well, Florida State certainly did its part. And you may want to sit down for this. The ’Noles went 2-22 on threes (9%). Yes, several rimmed out. But many were just really ugly, too. There’s no way of cushioning 2-22, as I’m constricted by the boundaries of the entire English language, and the words that best accomplish that goal are ones that I try not to put into print. But if you’ve any four-letter guesses as to where I’m going with this: yes— that one. And that one. That one works, too.

Got any left? That’s good, because you’ll need them for the second part of the equation. Remember those 20 first-half free throws for Pitt? The Panthers actually shot more in the second half: 26. For a grand total, in a 40-minute game, of 46. Now give Pittsburgh’s players credit: they did their job when they got to the stripe, sinking 38 of those attempts (83%), for more than half of their team’s total points.

But don’t give the refs much credit. They looked to be guessing through much of this one, continually buying into theatrics and flops and repeatedly anticipating whistles. The Seminoles got to the line 19 fewer times than Pitt, and made 20 of their 27 tries (74%), which is not bad at all. Give particular credit to Trent Forrest, who led Florida State with 19 points (the only Seminole in double figures) and converted on 11-12 free throws. But even if the ’Noles had been perfect, the final deficit would have only been cut in half.

FSU had two players foul out: Mfiondu Kabengele, the team’s leading scorer on the season, and starter Terance Mann. Forrest and P.J. Savoy wound up with four fouls each. The Panthers didn’t have a single player finish with more than three fouls.

So let’s not say that the one loss to Duke became two because of this result. Florida State played hard and wasn’t overly sloppy. The Seminoles simply have no control over the refs, and it’s not like they were trying to miss all those treys. If anything, the latter could be attributed to playing two games so closely together. And yes, Pitt was doing the same thing, but going from the road to a home game in that scenario is always preferable in that scenario, as you’re able to feed off of home-court fans— and, sometimes, homer refs.

FSU now gets a rest before another road test, at Boston College, on Sunday. And then it’s another long flight and a quick turnaround before hosting Clemson next Tuesday.

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