TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — M.J. Walker scored 17 points and No. 16 Florida State built a big first-half lead, beating No. 7 Virginia 81-60 on Monday night in a showdown between the top two teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
RaiQuan Gray had 15 points as the Seminoles (12-3, 8-2) handed 2019 national champion Virginia its worst ACC loss in four years. Walker made five of Florida State’s season-high 13 3-pointers on 24 attempts (54%).
“We can play anybody in the country when we’re locked in and focused on our opponent and the game plan and execute it,” Gray said. “We have to keep that focus the rest of the year.”
Trey Murphy III had 13 points and Kihei Clark added 12 in the second half for Virginia (15-4, 11-2), which had won four in a row.
Florida State has taken four of the last five meetings at home. But this one was surprisingly lopsided; it marked the Cavaliers’ largest ACC defeat since falling 65-41 at North Carolina on Feb. 18, 2017.
The Seminoles shot a robust 29 of 58 (50%) from the floor against one of the nation’s stingiest defensive programs.
“If you want a chance to beat a team of this caliber, or that is playing at this level in this setting, you can’t be sometimes really good defensively,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You’ve got to be all the time good in the areas that you have control over. You can’t control if they can make the big-time shot or an acrobatic play, but we can control if our defense is set, if we’re active on the ball, if we’re in position and not committing some lapse in judgment.”
Bennett dropped to 9-10 against Florida State.
Florida State jumped on the Cavaliers early. Gray and Walker had nine points apiece as the Seminoles went 6 of 10 from 3-point range on the way to a stunning 45-25 halftime lead.
Murphy’s 3-pointer closed the deficit to 48-41 with 14:24 left, but the Cavaliers couldn’t cut into the lead any further.
Florida State’s depth again was a big factor. Balsa Koprivica (nine points), Anthony Polite (eight), Scottie Barnes (seven) and Sardaar Calhoun (six) helped the Seminoles’ bench outscore Virginia’s reserves 37-20.
“We got a tremendous amount of energy from everyone who came in the game,” coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought that allowed us to play at a very, very high level for the entire game.”
BIG MAN RETURNS
Koprivica, a sophomore center, returned after turning his ankle pregame against Wake Forest. He pulled down three rebounds and hit his first 3-pointer of the season. That shot as well as an 18-footer were among the big baskets for Florida State in the second half.
Koprivica played the role of rim protector well, as Clark did most of his damage early in the second half when Koprivica was on the bench. Koprivica also blocked one of Clark’s second-half shots.
Virginia was sluggish early with eight first-half turnovers and couldn’t match Florida State’s energy. The Cavaliers had held the Seminoles under 70 points in the previous 19 meetings.
Florida State showed off its depth and defense, securing its biggest win of the season with the type of shooting efficiency Virginia usually displays. Eight players sank a 3 for the Seminoles. The only other team in the last 25 seasons to do that in a win over a top-10 team was Auburn in the 2019 NCAA regional semifinals against North Carolina, according to STATS.
Virginia probably won’t drop too far if it bounces back Saturday at Duke. Florida State showed it’s worthy of continuing its ascension, especially if it can add to its success against Virginia Tech this weekend.
Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.
Florida State hosts No. 18 Virginia Tech on Saturday.