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How South Dakota State built a world around Mike Daum and kept a 3,000-point scorer

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OMAHA, Neb. — Mike Daum lives in a dream world.

It’s not one he invented nor is it an illusion. His is a reality purposefully, carefully and meticulously constructed to maximize Mike Daum.

It’s a world with a fundamental truth from which everything emanates.

Mike Daum is the best basketball player South Dakota State or the Summit League has ever seen, and as long as that has been readily apparent so too has another truth.

He’d have the opportunity to leave both for his senior season.

So from practice plans to roster construction to how film is watched to the program’s very culture, everything has been assembled to keep Mike Daum happy, productive and contented.

“We pretty much have tried to adapt how we play, how I coach our team, how we relate to our guys,” South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger told NBC Sports, “a lot of it has been based on Mike.”

So even with the brighter lights, bigger stage and chartered flights of potentially any Power 5 program at Daum’s disposal last spring, what could possibly compete with a life tailored to your strengths?

“At the end of the day, when you transfer, there’s nothing set in stone,” Daum said to NBC Sports. “I could transfer, there’s a possibility I wouldn’t play as much, there’s a possibility I wouldn’t start. There’s just a possibility that I wouldn’t do as well as I originally expected when you transfer like that.

“Where here, I knew my role, I knew my position.”

Both, of course, were designed with exactly Daum in mind.

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It was clear early on Scott Nagy had hit it big with the unrecruited kid from Kimball, Neb.

Or it was once Daum sat out a season.

The 6-foot-9 forward redshirted his first year in Brookings after Nagy and his staff plucked him from obscurity when they watched him make 12 3s in a back gym at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. The promise was there, but Daum needed refining.

That redshirt year produced a freshman season in which Daum averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as he shot 55.3 percent from the floor and 44.6 percent from 3 while collecting awards such as the Summit League’s top freshman, sixth man and conference tournament MVP.

After three NCAA tournament appearances in five years and a 21-season tenure,  Nagy left for Wright State after Daum’s freshman year. In came the longtime Iowa State assistant Otzelberger, who knew he was inheriting the conference’s best player but also one, because of that redshirt year, that would likely have the opportunity to chase college basketball’s upper echelon as a graduate transfer after his junior year.

“We didn’t get off to a great start basketball wise. Part of that was as a first-time head coach, I was putting so much pressure on myself on all the basketball parts – how we coach and teach and what we do,” Otzelberger said. “I was probably missing a little more on the people aspect of connecting with our guys and spending time with them and hanging out with them and getting to know them, and I think with Mike as I coached initially it was probably not the best fit or him. Then I tried to be adaptive to what would be the best coaching style to work with him as I got to know him better. I always felt like once we had that connection or that relationship and we built it, I just thought Mike was a guy that the relationship piece was really important to him. I think his friends here are really important to him. I think he realizes how Brookings has embraced him as a community, how he’s embraced Brookings.”

Whatever adjustments were made to fit Daum – they worked. As a sophomore he averaged 25.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as the Summit League’s player of the year while the Jackrabbits made another NCAA tournament appearance. He repeated as the league MVP as a junior while averaging 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds with the season ending in a third-straight conference tournament title and NCAA tournament appearance.

That’s when two years of whispers finally culminated into a chorus.

What’s Daum going to do?

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“I can’t lie,” Daum said of his oft-discussed senior-year status. “It was in the back of my mind, thinking about it, too, because maybe if I went bigger I’d get better exposure.”

After declaring for the NBA draft without an agent but failing to get a combine invite, Daum, though, said he didn’t even take a look at the landscape to survey his options.

In a year where Reid Travis left Stanford for Kentucky, it’s not hard to picture Daum leaving the eastern edge of South Dakota for a program where nationally televised games, NBA scouts and luxury travel are the norm. Where an otherwise wildly successful season won’t end with a bad night at the conference tournament in Sioux Falls.

“I felt like as a coach when you’re in the position,” Otzelberger said, “as crazy as it sounds, if what we could offer Mike and what we were doing on a daily basis, if he got to a point at some time he felt like he wanted the bright lights of a bigger school or conference or more games on ESPN, that I wouldn’t be doing my job all the way if I didn’t present options, tell him those will be out there and support him in doing that.

“More than anything, we just tried to, on a daily basis, try to make it the best for him and hope he felt it fit him, that it was something he wanted to continue to be a part of and that he wasn’t looking for something else.”

That plan that played out over two years, with Daum as the basketball centerpiece and his personality the center of how South Dakota State structured the program’s culture.

“It was a pretty straightforward decision for me to come back to school,” Daum said. “I felt so loyal to SDSU. My parents, how I was raised – you start something, you’ve got to finish it there. And the community of Brookings has always been so welcoming, help develop me with basketball and outside of basketball to become a better person.

“SDSU was just the place to be. I can’t get enough of coach Otz. I can’t get enough of my teammates. Those dudes are literally the best dudes I’ve ever been around.”


Anyone basketball player – or person, really – dreams of having the day-to-day built around them. That’s the life Daum lives at South Dakota State.

Rarely without a smile on his face or a laugh coming from his mouth, Daum just likes being happy. He loves to laugh. That’s why South Dakota State runs its operation with a more leisurely-bent than something militaristic.

“His way to lead is being upbeat and jovial and joking around with guys and playing pranks,” Otzelberger said. “For some programs or some coaches, maybe they think that’s not taking things seriously, but what Mike does is he makes it fun to be there very day. His leadership creates an enjoyable atmosphere on a daily basis.

“Our guys spend a lot of time with each other off the court. They enjoy being around each other as a group. It’s not four guys over here and three guys over here. That’s a big credit to Mike because he makes it fun and he loves being around the guys.”

Even film sessions are created with Daum – and his sense of humor – in mind.

“Mike is a big ‘Borat’ fan,” Otzelberger said of the 2006 Sacha Baron Cohen comedy. “We put together a video edit of some winning plays and (graduate assistant) Reid Tellinghuisen put Borat’s voice behind a lot of things and Borat scenes, and Mike literally was on the ground, rolling laughing like it was the greatest thing ever. Telling stories, reciting lines in front of the whole team. Then he’s doing all those impersonations.

“It was one of those Mike Daum moments where the little kid in him comes out.”

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While the smile doesn’t leave once Daum hits the floor, any idea of him being a kid does. It’s a grown man averaging 25.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this season. Daum is among the country’s leaders in usage rate, defensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn.

When he’s on the court, Daum is the center of the universe. Everything that happens seems to be a ripple effect from Daum’s play. He’s the focus of his teammates, the officials, opposing players and hostile fans.

South Dakota State’s offense is structured around him, hecklers are fixated on him, defenses are constructed to stop him and how physical teams are allowed to be with him is pivotal.

Preparing to play him is a singular headache of coaches of the Summit League.

“It sucks,” Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. “He scores it from three, he pump fakes, he scores from the mid-post, he scores it from the post. They run him all over the place.

“Yeah, it blows.”

Daum’s abilities, as Hansen so aptly outlined, are unique as a 3-point shooting forward who largely plays below the rim with a plethora of devastating offensive moves. So, too, is that goofy demeanor. South Dakota State has been able to get the most out of both, largely by embracing both. While it’s natural to wonder what Daum’s final collegiate season could have looked like in the Big Ten or Big East, it’s not hard to imagine a bumpy transition for a program trying to acclimate a fifth-year senior accustomed to dominating play, the ball and the room.

“Ninety-five to 99 percent of the schools at the Power 5 conference level would have certainly loved to have a guy like Mike on their team. Who wouldn’t? He would have had those options,” Otzelberger said. “He could be successful anywhere, but at the same time we’ve kind of built everything around his abilities all the way around. There would have been different challenges because when you go into a different program and they have seniors and they have older guys that have been there for four years.

“Regardless of how good you are, they come in and they’re kind of skeptical and make you earn it over time. It’s not just a smooth transition where everybody says, ‘Here we go, let’s make it work for Mike.’ They’re saying you’ve got to fit in our puzzle rather than the other way around.”

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The pieces continue to come together around Daum at South Dakota State.

While Daum’s 3-point shooting has dipped this season, he’s been as productive as ever to move his career into historic territory. He just passed Oscar Robinson on the all-time scoring list and the 3,000-point plateau, something just nine others have ever done. Doug McDermott’s 3,150 career points is within reach.

He hasn’t generated the legend or cult following of a McDermott or Stephen Curry or Jimmer Fredette despite the sweet stroke and piles of points. He could finish as a top-five career scoring in the sport’s history with four NCAA tournament appearances.

He could have also chased something foreign, something tantalizing and something unknown. He could have grasped for a spotlight that could have made him a household name rather than a torment to Summit League coaches.

There wouldn’t have been that trip to an escape room, though.

“We split it up two teams and it was the same escape room but one team was on this side and one team was on this side,” Daum recalled, giddiness dripping from every word. ”The thing I could remember is none of us could figure out the clues so we were just yelling back and forth at each other through this escape room.”

Or the video game sessions that lead to you-had-to-be-there moments.

“We got Fortnite thrown up on the TV or there’s this one game we’ve got called Quiplash. It’s through the Playstation and it asks a question – have you ever played apples to apples? So it’s kind of like that, but you create your own answers,” Daum said between laughs of excitement. ”We’ll get on the screens and it’ll say if you were falling off a volcano, who would you grab to fall with you? We all just start roasting each other during these types of games. We’ll say some stupid, belligerent stuff and all of us are just crying laughing.”

While the basketball world has been built for Mike Daum at South Dakota State, it’s his teammates off the court that have created the life that continues to bring him so much joy.

“This group of guys, I can’t get over. This is the closest group of dudes I’ve been around on and off the court,” he said. “We all laugh at the same things. We all have this great sense of humor. We’re not offended easily. We all have thick skin and we can all kind of get on each other and laugh at each other. This time of my life, I know I’m going to miss when I look back at it. I’m going to miss those memories but I also know I’m going to be able to look back and laugh at the things I’ve been through.”

That’s why Mike Daum is riding a bus around the Summit League, playing in games that exist buried somewhere deep inside your DirecTV guide or streaming app rather than chartering around the country playing made-for-TV spectacles with a blue blood’s jersey on his back.

“A lot of times people are in search of the bigger, better deal. I think patience isn’t a strength of most. A lot of times people feel like the grass is greener. There’s something they’re not getting or don’t have,” Otzelberger said. “For him, what’s probably more important is relationships with coaches, players, friends, people in the community and the experience he has. He’s seen that be an equation that’s worked really well for him, so I don’t think at any time he was feeling like, ‘Well, this is hurting my future by doing this,’ and I feel how we utilize him and value him and the opportunities we create for him, hopefully that’s true, that he feels like, ‘Yeah, I might have gotten a few more games on ESPN or had a few more scouts at a game, but at the end of the day I maybe wouldn’t have been used in the same way or developed the same way or had that same connection or relationship.’

“Hopefully he feels like that piece that it was the right choice.”

For Daum, there is no doubt.

“It feels like I’ve been training this my entire life to just continue to succeed each day and get the most out of each day. I feel like I’m making the most out of it,” he said. “Our guys have done such a great job creating such strong relationships and camaraderie on and off the court that allows us to play so together on the court. Our guys are hanging out 24/7. When we’re at practice, we’re always laughing and joking together. When we’re off the court, we’re getting together for lunch, we’re getting together at night doing random things.

“This is definitely the best situation.”

It’s the dream, and eventually it’ll end.

Why, then, would anyone leave before they absolutely had to?

“I trust the SEC office will do the right thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says after bump from official

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Tennessee 63-58 loss to Texas A&M wasn’t without some controversy.

In the final seconds of the game, official Mike Nance appeared to bump into Vols coach Rick Barnes, who was standing stationary on the sideline, and the two exchanged words.

“I really have a lot of confidence in the SEC office that they are going to look at that,” Barnes said after the game about the incident, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I believe they will look at this game and take it apart. I just think they will do that. That shouldn’t happen in any way shape or form. I would like to say what I want to say, but I won’t because I trust the SEC office will do the right thing.”

Nance was headed to the monitor to review a call when the bump occurred, and Nance appeared to ask Barnes if the coach initiated the contact.

“Coach (Bob) Knight told me a long time ago that in a game officials are going to miss seven to nine or 10, 11, 12 calls,” Barnes said. “He kept going up every year. He said, ‘You just hope things aren’t egregious at any point in time.'”

Coach K screams at Duke fans, defending Jeff Capel

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In one of the stranger things that we’ve seen in college basketball this season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went off on the Cameron Crazies for what he believed was a shot they were taking at former Duke player Jeff Capel.

The crazies were chanting, “Jeff Capel sit with us.” Coach K thought he heard something else.

Check out the video:

After the game, Coach K acknowledged that he misheard what the fans said, adding that he will apologize for the mishap.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “But I’d rather make a mistake for the protection of my guy.

“I love Jeff. I erred on that side. I just hope the ACC doesn’t fine me like they did [Mike] Brey.”

He ended the back and forth with this: “Jeff can sit with me anytime.”

 

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah State absolutely could not lose at Wyoming (299) on Tuesday, and they didn’t. The Aggies have neutral site wins over LSU (25) and Florida (37), which is enough to keep them in this discussion despite road losses at Boise State (102), UNLV (130) and Air Force (184). They make the trip to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State (2) on Saturday, and that feels like a must-win for Utah State at this point.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): The Boilermakers dropped to 11-10 on the season with a 70-63 loss at Rutgers (23) on Tuesday night. That means Purdue has dropped five of their last seven games. They’re 2-7 against Quad 1 opponents with a 29 point win over Michigan State (8), but there are a lot of losses on their resume already and the Big Ten is a bear.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies did themselves no favors by losing at Miami (106) on Tuesday night. In the last three days, they’ve suffered their two worst losses of the season. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas lost their third straight game on Tuesday night and have now dropped six of their last eight. Making things worse is that they were up by 13 points on Butler (9) late in the first half. This was their best chance to land an elite win this season. They still get Villanova (14) and Seton Hall (12) at home, but the biggest issue with Georgetown’s tournament chances is that they are trending in the wrong direction with just seven scholarship players.

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.