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FSU knocks Tennessee from unbeaten ranks, surging San Diego State wins eighth straight

(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

The ranks of undefeated Division I teams dropped to slightly more than two dozen on Friday evening following Florida State’s 60-57 win over previously unbeaten Tennessee (5-1) in the opening round of the four-team Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida.

The Seminoles, who improved to 6-1, used a balanced scoring attack and pressure defense — forcing an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers — to defeat the 17th-ranked Volunteers.

Playing in front of a friendly crowd of 2,500 only a couple of hours from its Tallahassee campus, Florida State jumped out to an early 12-2 lead, capped by a sensational slam dunk by towering center Balsa Koprivica, a 7-1 freshman from Belgrade, Serbia.  Along with Ole Miss graduate transfer Dominik Olejniczak, Koprivica is one of two seven-footers on the FSU roster.

Despite a rash of turnovers, Tennessee kept the game close and trailed by only five points — 29-24 — at halftime.

Florida State opened up a nine-point lead at the 15:41 mark of the second half, but the Vols chipped away at the lead and pulled within three with a little over a minute remaining in the game before FSU iced the game at the free-throw line.

Devin Vassell, a 6-6 sophomore, paced FSU with thirteen points while Tennessee’s senior guard Lamonte Turner, the team’s leading returning scorer from last year’s 31-6 Sweet Sixteen team, led all scorers with a game-high 20 points.

The Seminoles, whose only setback so far this season came in its early November opener when it lost a back-and-forth struggle to Pitt 63-61 at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, advance to tomorrow night’s championship game against the winner of Friday’s late-night contest between 20th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth — one of two unbeaten teams in the Atlantic 10 — and Purdue. 

Tennessee will face the loser of that matchup in the tournament’s third-place game.

Undefeated San Diego State (8-0), off to its strongest start since 2010-11 — a year SDSU won its first twenty games before losing to hot-shooting Jimmer Fredette and BYU in Provo — avoided Tennessee’s fate by securing its eighth consecutive victory in a come-from-behind 83-73 win over Iowa (5-2) in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game.  It was the first meeting ever between the two schools. 

Tournament MVP Malachi Flynn, a 6-1 junior guard who scored all of his points in the second half, led the Aztecs with 28 points.

Routing Morgan State 90-57, tenth-ranked Ohio State (6-0) also remained unbeaten.  The Buckeyes, who jumped out to an insurmountable 45-18 halftime lead against the outmanned Bears, were led by freshman Andre Wesson’s game-high 19 points.

A few other undefeated teams remained perfect on Friday night as unranked Oklahoma State (7-0) smothered Ole Miss 78-37, SMU (7-0) routed Abilene Christian 70-51 and Delaware — a preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association until freshman guard Ithiel Horton transferred to Pitt — quietly improved to 8-0 with a 75-56 win over winless Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-8). 

The unheralded Blue Hens, tied for the program’s best start since the 1998-99 season, will try to make it nine in a row when they host the Ivy League’s Columbia Lions (2-5) on Monday evening.

No. 14 Arizona and fifteenth-ranked Utah State, both of whom are 7-0, put their perfect records on the line later tonight in West Coast matchups against Penn (4-2) and Saint Mary’s (5-1), respectively.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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