TALLAHASSEE — The way his team has played in close games this year, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton didn't mind making Sunday's game against Florida a little closer.
Instead of letting the Gators attempt a tying 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left, Hamilton instructed his players to commit a nonshooting foul on guard Nick Calathes. Though Calathes made both free throws to cut the Seminoles' lead to one, FSU responded with a free throw at the other end and held on for a 57-55 victory, its third straight over UF.
"I've seen Calathes hit shots from three or four steps past 3-point range," Hamilton said. "So if I had to make a decision, I'd just rather get him fouled and take my chances."
No. 23 Florida (6-2) had one last chance to pull out the road victory, but junior forward Dan Werner's last-second 3-pointer was off the mark.
The Gators shot 39.2 percent (20-for-51) from the field and 22.2 percent (4-for-18) from 3-point range. Guards Walker Erving, Walter Hodge and Calathes were particularly cold; they combined to hit 8 of 23 shots from the field and 2 of 10 from long range.
Calathes led all scorers with 16 points but also committed six turnovers.
Despite those struggles, Florida was able to use its fullcourt defensive pressure to make a 19-4 run midway through the second half. But FSU, playing before a home crowd of 8,983, responded with impressive halfcourt defense to erase a six-point deficit and tie it at 49 with less than five minutes remaining.
FSU forwards Ryan Reid and Chris Singleton had steals on consecutive trips down the court.
"Up six with five to go, we had three tough turnovers that led to plays by them that tied the game up pretty quickly," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They were able to capitalize a little more (on turnovers) than we were on the turnovers we were able to make."
FSU (8-1) has won five games by four points or less. That's a stark contrast to recent history, when its NCAA Tournament chances have been damaged by narrow defeats.
"The last few years of Florida State's history is always losing the (close) game, always losing by two points at the buzzer," sophomore guard Jordan DeMercy said. "We emphasized that that wasn't going to be us this year."
With leading scorer Toney Douglas struggling — he finished with two points and five assists — FSU received strong performances from several role players.
DeMercy scored a career-high 12 and was one of three Seminoles in double figures. Center Solomon Alabi finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, forward Ryan Reid scored 13 and forward Chris Singleton grabbed 10 rebounds to go with eight points.
"We had a lot of heroes," Hamilton said. "This team has a lot of confidence. Even when we haven't played very well, we've maintained our composure. Maybe something good has come from playing all these close games."