Dec. 4, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Seminoles.com) - A second-half spark led by senior All-America candidate Natasha Howard allowed the Florida State women's basketball team to earn a hard-fought 60-58 win over No. 25 Michigan State on Wednesday evening at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Led by Howard's 30th career double-double with 23 points and 12 boards, the Seminoles (7-1) picked up their 26th USA Today Coaches Poll Top 25 win under head coach Sue Semrau. It was also FSU's 16th USA Today Top 25 victory since the 2008-09 season.
"The challenge in the second half was that our team needed to have more mental toughness and I thought Natasha Howard and Cheetah Delgado really led the charge in that way and weren't going to be denied," Semrau said following the game.
"Michigan State is a great basketball team. They've got a lot of different weapons. They can shoot it deep as you saw all the way to the final buzzer. They have a really nice inside game. They were hard to defend. I thought our kids did a great job of understanding personnel - who we need to pay attention to in certain situations."
Howard's third 20-point performance of the season wasn't her only highlight on the night. On the opposite end, she added three blocks and two steals and forced several contested jump shots. With FSU clinging to a 58-55 lead with 15 seconds left following a made free-throw by Delgado, Michigan State sharp-shooter Annalise Pickrel missed a tying attempt from long range that Howard got out in front of and contested. Two free throws with four seconds remaining by freshman Ivey Slaughter sealed the game.
Pickrel wound up shooting 8-of-14 for the Spartans (5-3), scoring 20 points to become the first opposing player to score 20 or more points in regulation play against the Seminoles this season.
One of the biggest plays down the stretch of the game came when Florida State led 56-55 late. With 32 seconds remaining, Pickrel attempted a long-range jumper and missed, but corralled her own rebound and tried calling a timeout when she was scrambling on the floor. However, with Michigan State having no timeouts remaining, a technical foul was issued, allowing FSU to split two separate trips to the line and take a 58-55 advantage with 15 seconds remaining. Florida State shot just 32.8 percent for the game, but came through by shooting 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) in the second half while showcasing a much smoother offense. FSU continued to pound the ball inside to Howard, but redshirt sophomore Morgan Jones also aided the offense with 15 points including three 3-pointers.
By getting the ball to Howard and getting other slashers to the hoop, FSU held a wide edge in the free throw department. The `Noles shot 19-of-30 while Michigan State was held to 5-of-7 overall, choosing to shoot more from beyond the arc with 27 3-point attempts compared to FSU's 10.
Wednesday's matchup was tight throughout, with FSU holding its widest lead at seven points with a 56-49 advantage on Brittany Brown's layup with 2:49 left. That's when back-to-back 3's by Pickrel tightened the game to 56-55 before the technical foul occurred.
FSU forced 25 turnovers and used 15 points off the miscues in the second half to get easier looks. The taller Spartans did outrebound the `Noles, 46-36, to mark just the second time this season FSU has lost the battle on the glass.
Michigan State and Florida State waged a rough first half with the Spartans holding a 25-21 advantage. Howard led the `Noles with eight points but both teams struggled to find a rhythm with the game being very physical in the paint.
Defenses reigned in the early going as the first basket of the game came on a layup from FSU's Jones more than three minutes into the game. FSU held Michigan State to 1-of-6 through the 15:05 mark and used a reverse layup by Howard to go ahead early 4-3.
Florida State went cold midway through the second half, shooting just 2-of-16 from the floor as Michigan State held an 11-8 lead with 7:54 remaining in the first half. The `Noles' best option was forcing the ball inside to Howard, whose physicality down low allowed her to get to the line for some free points. The Spartans also had a rough shooting start, shooting 27 percent (5-of-18).
The `Noles fought hard to stay in the game, trailing 21-17 with 3:48 left in the first half. FSU continued to look for Howard in the line and the pace of play began to tighten up to where more fouls were called underneath for FSU. Through the final media timeout of the first half, the 'Noles were 8-of-12 from the free-throw line while the Spartans were 3-of-4.
FSU hosts Jacksonville in its next game on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. The game is promoted as "Dads & Daughters Day," with a $15 package including two tickets, two hot dogs and two drinks. Any additional youth are just $5.
For more information on Florida State women's basketball, follow the Seminoles on Twitter at @FSU_WBasketball and like their official Facebook page (Facebook.com/FSUWomensBasketball).