Florida State had 16 turnovers. But the Seminoles won with their trademark defense, creating 10 steals, blocking five shots and forcing Virginia into 18 turnovers.
“Some people will say this was not a very pretty game,” Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said. “It was beautiful to me.”
Florida State made plenty of mistakes but also connected on critical three-pointers to break Virginia’s pack-line defense. Early on, with FSU struggling, Polite hit three three-pointers — including one at the halftime buzzer that put the Seminoles up 31-24.
Virginia clawed back into the game, and the lead changed hands down the stretch. Kihei Clark put the Cavaliers ahead 46-44 with 5:23 to go. The teams traded baskets before Polite tied it at 47 with 2:27 left.
FSU took control from there. Vassell knocked down a three-pointer and hit a pair of free throws, and Trent Forrest made 2 of 3 free throw attempts. Virginia couldn’t respond, turning it over three times and making just one more shot, a three-pointer.
The Seminoles won amid a role reversal for the teams — Florida State as the top-10 team and Virginia as the unranked challenger.
“We feel like we’ve always been the underdogs,” Vassell said. “We haven’t had that spotlight on us. Every game, we’re getting everybody’s best shot.”
Mamadi Diakite scored 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting for Virginia (11-5, 3-3), which turned it over 18 times and made just 21 shots from the field. Tomas Woldetensae was 3 for 4 from three-point range, but the rest of the Cavaliers were 0 for 11 from beyond the arc.
Virginia, the defending national champion, has lost three straight games.
“Our inexperience shows at times,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “It takes courage to not get discouraged. You can’t be soft. You can self-reflect and be disappointed. But don’t you dare get discouraged. You have to be strong and tough mentally.”
The Cavaliers shot 21 of 46 (45.7 percent) from the field.
Forrest had five points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. The Seminoles had 10 steals and five blocks.
Florida State shot 20 of 54 (37 percent) and was 8 for 22 (36.4 percent) from beyond the three-point arc.
Florida State, which was unranked to begin the season, could make an argument to move up even more if the Seminoles add a victory at Miami.
Hamilton has won 160 ACC games in 18 seasons at Florida State, tying him with Frank McGuire (North Carolina and South Carolina) for fifth most in league history.
Florida State took a 26-25 lead in the all-time series.
Virginia: The Cavaliers were undone by their own mistakes as they made 12 shots from the field but had 11 turnovers in the first half alone.
Florida State: The Seminoles have won five straight ACC games. They have beaten three ranked teams — then-No. 6 Florida, then-No. 7 Louisville and then No. 16-Tennessee. The Cavaliers fell out of the rankings this week.
Virginia: At Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Florida State: At Miami on Saturday.