TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – MJ Walker took an elbow to his lip and missed a large chunk of the game. But 12 stitches later, numb around his mouth, Walker’s shooting spoke volumes.
Walker scored 16 points, including five 3-pointers, as No. 8 Florida State played without star guard Devin Vassell and held off Syracuse 80-77 on Saturday.
“We were floundering a little bit,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “The game was somewhat in doubt and he put us on his shoulders. He made plays down the stretch. That says an awful lot about him.”
Florida State needed Walker, especially late. The junior guard drilled a 3-pointer with 4:19 left and then another 3-pointer with 2:36 to go — as he was fouled — and made the free throw to complete a four-point play. In a tight game, Walker’s shooting and defense helped the Seminoles win their 20th straight home game.
“It wasn't going to stop me from playing,” Walker said. “I felt good. I was still energized. I just picked up where I left off.”
Vassell was on the bench but did not play. The sophomore guard averages 13.4 points per game and Hamilton declined to discuss the reason why Vassell did not play.
Florida State won because of its trademark depth and defense. Freshman Patrick Williams came off the bench to play a season-high 32 minutes, scoring 17 points on 7-of- 14 shooting and pulling down seven rebounds for the Seminoles (21-4, 11-3 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Syracuse had a last-second shot, but Elijah Hughes missed a 25-footer that went off the rim and would have tied the game. Hughes scored 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting and added four rebounds, playing just over 39 minutes as he returned from a groin injury that limited him to 3 minutes in Tuesday’s home loss against N.C. State.
Freshman point guard Joe Girard scored 22 points on 7-of-22 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds for Syracuse (14-11, 7-7), which has lost four of its last five games.
“Our defense hasn't been good down the stretch,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We got to get stops, we got to rebound to win games like this.”
Trent Forrest scored 13 points, making two free-throw attempts with 8.5 seconds to go for FSU. RaiQuan Gray also had 10 rebounds as the Seminoles had a 47-29 edge on the boards.
Led by Williams’ 17 points, Florida State’s bench outscored Syracuse’s reserves 41-13. Wyatt Wilkes (eight points), RayQuan Evans (six points, four assists) and Dominik Olejniczak (six points, four rebounds) were also critical in securing the win.
“The quality of our depth really stood out,” Hamilton said.
BACK ON TRACK
Florida State has only lost four times this year but each time has bounced back to win its next game. One of the main reasons on Saturday was the Seminoles’ 11-of-25 shooting (44%) from 3-point range.
Florida State is coming off a road loss to Duke in a top-10 showdown and a close win at home vs. Syracuse. The Seminoles will likely remain in the top 10.
Syracuse: Buddy Boeheim, who averages 16.3 points per game, was held without a point on 0-of-7 shooting, five of the shots coming from beyond the 3-point arc. The Orange shot just 7 of 25 (28%) from 3-point range.
Florida State: Won despite playing without Vassell, its leading scorer at 13.4 points. Still, 10 players scored, the Seminoles had seven steals, and they were able to shut down Buddy Boeheim, who is shooting 39.1% from behind the arc.
Syracuse: Plays at No. 5 Louisville on Wednesday.
Florida State: Will host Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Panthers defeated the visiting Seminoles in the season opener on Nov. 6.