Jan. 2, 2014
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (seminoles.com) - When big plays needed to be made, senior forward Natasha Howard answered when her number was called as No. 21/20 Florida State women's basketball escaped with a 78-69 win on the road at Pitt in its ACC opener on Thursday evening at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Howard recorded a career-high 27 points in a dominant effort by the Toledo, Ohio, native, owning the post with a 12-of-15 shooting effort while adding six rebounds and three blocks. It was the most points by a Seminole in a conference game since former player Alexa Deluzio delivered 28 points at Boston College on Jan. 19, 2012.
Over her past six games, Howard has shot 52-of-72 (72.2 percent) from the field, including 24-of-29 over her last two games.
"We're a young team that did a great job and was able to get a win in the ACC. Any win in the ACC is big," FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. "We came out strong in the second half, but Pitt continued to fight. I was impressed with Natasha Howard, Ivey Slaughter and Brittany Brown. When you have three players step up like that it's great. We're very happy to come out with a win."
The Seminoles (13-1, 1-0) improved their win streak to nine games and won their seventh ACC opener in the last eight seasons. Florida State had four double-figure scorers including Howard, with freshman Ivey Slaughter, redshirt sophomore Morgan Jones and freshman Brittany Brown contributing 11 points apiece.
The `Noles came up big with 20 offensive rebounds, helping them gain a 24-10 advantage in second-chance points. Slaughter registered her sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Senior point guard Cheetah Delgado ran the offense well with eight assists, and FSU topped the 70-point plateau for the fourth straight game.
The Panthers (8-7, 0-1) were led by junior Brianna Kiesel's 20 points in the loss. FSU held Pitt to 40.9 percent shooting and remains the only ACC team to not allow 70 points or more in a game this season. The `Noles shot a respectable 45.2 percent from the field, and their aggressiveness in getting to the rim led to 36 free-throw attempts.
FSU was forced to hold off Pitt as it crept into the ballgame in the second half. As the Panthers pressured with a late 10-4 run in the second half, FSU got a big layup from Slaughter at the 4:24 mark before Kiesel made a fastbreak layup to force an FSU timeout with the `Noles leading 66-58. Howard responded with a layup down low to extend the lead back to 10 points. An offensive rebound from Pitt's Loliya Briggs and an inside basket cut the FSU lead to 68-62 with 1:28 left.
Howard's number was called again and she made arguably the game's most important game in crunch time, getting a three-point play inside with 1:12 remaining in the game to give FSU a little more cushion at 71-62. The basket and free throw gave Howard her career high of 27 points.
The `Noles were forced to call a timeout with 6:47 left in the game as Pitt went on a quick 5-0 run to trail just 62-50. Prior to the small run, FSU led by as many as 17 on a few occasions as Howard continued to finish consistently in the post and an active defense kept forcing turnovers. However, Asia Logan hit a few free throws and Kiesel got a steal and finish in the FSU backcourt to cut the FSU lead to 62-54 with just over six minutes left.
Thursday's game was just the second time FSU finished with under double-digit steals, but the `Noles used eight steals in the second half to get transition baskets.
FSU continued to execute in the second half, forcing more turnovers on defense to lead to easier buckets as it held a 55-39 advantage with 11:31 remaining in the game. To that point, Howard was shooting 8-of-10 from the field with 18 points and Delgado got everyone involved with seven assists. Right before the second media timeout, Delgado assisted on a fastbreak layup that was finished nicely by Jones down the middle of the lane.
The `Noles led 39-28 at halftime thanks to a late scoring flurry where they went on an 11-4 run to end the half. The first half was punctuated by a three-point play from Emiah Bingley as she grabbed an offensive board in traffic and made the put-back with a foul. Howard led FSU with 11 points at the half, marking her 76th career double-figure game, and FSU held Pitt to 36.4 percent from the field.
Florida State jumped out to an early 9-6 lead with 15:42 in the first half, once again trying to utilize its advantage in the post with Howard. Jones drained an early 3-pointer from the `Noles to help set the tone and a few offensive rebounds kept some possessions alive and give FSU an early edge.
Howard put the `Noles ahead 17-13 at the 11:44 mark of the first half on her longest shot of the season, a straightaway make from about 18 feet that put her in 12th on the FSU career scoring list with 1,366 points. FSU canned 7 of its first 15 shots from the field but allowed Pitt to make 6 of its first 15, albeit many being contested jumpers.
A pair of back-to-back makes inside from Kai James and Lauren Coleman gave FSU some productive points and put it ahead 21-15. However, the Panthers responded when Frederique Potvin hit a 3-pointer from the wing off the glass with 8:58 remaining in the first half. For the game, FSU and Pitt tied with 14 bench points apiece.
Brown started to catch fire for the `Noles, hitting a long-range jumper from the corner and following with a nice basket inside to give FSU a 29-20 lead. However, Pitt recorded back-to-back baskets to force an FSU timeout at the 4:11 mark as the `Noles led 29-24.
The `Noles head back on the road at rival Miami on Thursday, Jan. 9, for a 7 p.m. matchup with the Hurricanes. FSU's ACC home opener is on Sunday, Jan. 12, against No. 10/11 North Carolina at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
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).