Florida State’s advantage in the paint was never more evident than when Dwayne Bacon wrestled away a defensive rebound, sprinted the length of the court and fed fellow freshman Malik Beasley on the right wing.
Beasley took the pass in stride, rose above Davidson’s undersized defense and threw down a one-handed dunk.
The play stretched the Seminoles’ lead to 12 with just less than five minutes remaining and in essence sealed the Seminoles’ 84-74 victory over the Wildcats Tuesday in the first round of the NIT at the Tucker Center.
FSU (20-13) next will play at No. 1 seed Valparaiso (27-6) Thursday at 7 p.m. Valparaiso defeated Texas Southern 84-73 late Tuesday.
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton, whose team ended any chances of earning an NCAA tournament bid with a late-season, five-game losing streak, believes the longer the NIT run the better for his young team.
“This is a unique opportunity for us,” Hamilton said. “They’ll learn and grow. Each time you have an experience like that you gain wisdom.”
The Seminoles are hoping to repeat their 2014 NIT performance when they advanced to the semifinals at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This year, though, they would like to win two more games. FSU lost to Minnesota in the 2014 semis.
This is FSU’s third trip to the NIT in the last four years and first time in the postseason since 2014.
The game was decided in the paint where the Seminoles outscored Davidson 48-24. That size advantage extended to the boards where FSU held a 44-28 advantage.
“We knew we could dribble drive and we got a lot of paint touches,” Beasley said.
Bacon led FSU with 23 points followed by Beasley’s 21. No other FSU players were in double figures. The Seminoles had five players with at least five rebounds, led by Beasley’s nine.
“They’re pretty darn big, they’re pretty darn athletic,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said about the two players who were voted to the ACC’s all-freshman team.
“They’re spoken about in NBA circles. They’re future NBA players.”
Bacon (6-foot-7) and Beasley (6-5) are big compared to McKillop’s team. The Wildcats start two forwards at 6-8 and 6-7, and three guards who average just more than 6-feet, including leading scorer Jack Gibbs, who entered averaging 23.7 points but had a quiet 17 in which he missed nine of his first 10 shots.
“We rotated a lot of people on him,” guard Devon Bookert said. “He had to use a lot of energy to try to get open, try to get shots.”
Davidson, from the Atlantic 10, ends its season 20-13.