WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Tenth-ranked Florida State keeps winning games and hovering near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference, even as coach Leonard Hamilton sees an inexperienced team that’s still developing together.
Devin Vassell scored 17 points and Florida State pulled away in the final 10 minutes to beat Wake Forest 78-68 on Wednesday night, giving the Seminoles another double-digit win in league play.
Florida State (14-2, 4-1) got in foul trouble in the first half and sent the Demon Deacons to the line 22 times before the break, then surrendered an 11-0 run out of the break that gave Wake Forest a lead. Yet Florida State tightened up its defense and stopped sending a parade of Demon Deacons players to the foul line, then began to gradually stretch out a lead on the way to a seventh straight win.
“I’m just proud we were able to find a way to win while we’re still growing,” Hamilton said. “We’re extremely inexperienced. . so we’re still trying to find our way. I think if we continue to keep growing, hopefully we can continue to keep finding ways to win games while we’re still developing and evolving.”
M.J. Walker scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half for the Seminoles, who went ahead for good on RaiQuan Gray’s 3-pointer at the 14:04 mark. They also held the Demon Deacons to one field goal over 6 1/2 minutes as they finally asserted control, pushing a 52-49 lead to 67-56 on Malik Osborne’s 3-pointer with 2:46 left.
Florida State has won won 14 of 15 games, including a weekend win at then-No. 7 Louisville that signaled Hamilton’s Seminoles are again a factor in the league race.
“Just because we might not be playing another ranked team doesn’t mean that we can come out and be flat,” Vassell said, adding: “It might not be Duke or Virginia, but we’ve always got to come out and just play to the best of our abilities.”
Brandon Childress scored 20 points to lead Wake Forest, which played without starter Chaundee Brown due to a lower-leg injury. The Demon Deacons (8-6, 1-3) got off to a slow start to fall behind by a dozen in the opening minutes, but used that 11-0 run to erase a 41-34 halftime deficit and get back in it.
“Obviously we can say that we competed against a top-10 team, but that’s not enough,” said Wake Forest’s Olivier Sarr, who had 10 points. “Now we need to win games. Losing by 10 to a top-10 team is not just something we should be happy about.”
Florida State: The Seminoles arrived with plenty of momentum following the Louisville win, with its past three league wins all coming by double-figure margins dating to early December. FSU has won 16 of its last 18 ACC regular-season games dating to last January.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons were coming off a big win at Pittsburgh after rallying from 16 down. But they were short-handed for this one without Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. They fell behind 15-3 before pushing ahead early in the second half, then stayed within a shot or two of the Seminoles before Florida State made its clinching move.
OFF THE LINE
Wake Forest made 18 of 22 free throws in a first half that saw FSU whistled for 14 personal fouls, offsetting a rough first half in which the Demon Deacons had seven field goals and six turnovers. But the Demon Deacons warmed up to 48% from the field after halftime, but they got to the line just 10 times.
Trent Forrest had 14 points and 10 rebounds for FSU, posting his second career double-double. … Wake Forest coach Danny Manning offered no clear timeline on when Brown might be ready to play again. … The Demon Deacons committed 11 second-half turnovers that led to 11 second-half points for FSU. … Florida State made just 6 of 23 3-pointers and shot 43.5% for the game.
Florida State: The Seminoles return to action next Wednesday at home against 18th-ranked and reigning national champion Virginia.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons stay in their home state and visit second-ranked Duke on Saturday night.