Was it ugly? Yeah, especially in the first half. Florida State had their hands full Tuesday night in Tallahassee against an experienced, skilled, and well-coached basketball team in Minnesota. While watching this game, it was clear to see that this young Florida State team has a long way to go before they're ready to play at a consistent level, but don't give up on them just yet -- there is a glimmer of hope.
The game was pretty much all but over for the Seminoles at halftime when they went into the locker room down 13 points after shooting just 32% from the field. They knew coming into tonight's game that Minnesota was a very good offensive rebounding team and they put emphasis on that during this week's practice, but they still allowed Minnesota to gather 21 rebounds, 11 of which were offensive. Leonard Hamilton talked about this after the game.
"That was our primary focus going into tonight," Hamilton said. "If we allow eleven rebounds, that means we had eleven stops. So, if we gather enough of those rebounds and shoot an average percentage(from the floor), we have a better chance going into the half."
Minnesota didn't make it any easier on Florida State. The Gophers shot 50% from outside and 47% from the floor in the first half. The combination of their high shooting percentage and their rebounding put a lot of pressure on a young Seminoles team, and that's what Tubby Smith's up tempo offense will do to you.
"We like to run the floor and that's what we were able to do tonight," Smith said. "I think that was some of the best basketball we've played this year."
The second half turned out to be another story for the Seminoles. They continued to fight and claw their way back within 10 points and, if just for ten minutes, you had a glimpse of what might be one day with these Seminole youngsters. The Noles outscored the Gophers in the second half 43-to-39 with a sophomore and three freshmen on the court for most of that time.
Whisnant had a nice second half scoring 10 points, six of those coming from two crucial, late game shots from outside the arc. Whisnant's energy on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball had a lot to do with Florida State's success in the second half. When I watch Whisnant, it's easy to see why people were so excited when he committed. He can ball. I think his biggest problem is the occasional lack of confidence when shooting the ball. If he would just go out there and play his game, he could be a solid pull-up shooter for FSU and help take this offense to the next level.
I asked coach Hamilton about confidence and the process of finding that.
"Confidence comes in a number of ways," Hamilton said. "Sometimes when you're learning a system and you're not really sure if that's a ball-screen, a cross-screen, a down-screen -- when you're really not sure, you're thinking too much. We have a lot of that going on so we're trying to simplify it. We're trying not to be as aggressive with our systems as we have been in the past."
This to me sums up what I see in Terry Whisnant and even some of these freshmen. If they can just relax and become comfortable, they can be really good.
I thought Thomas had moments of brilliance on Tuesday night. He finished the game with 6 points, all of which came in the second half. There was one basket in particular that stood out to me and really foreshadowed the type of player I believe Thomas will turn out to be. With less than two minutes left, Thomas drove the ball right to the rim, spun around a defender and touched it off the glass. It was pretty. But where Aaron Thomas really impressed me tonight was on the defensive side of the ball. He was scrambling for the ball, selling out and forcing turnovers. This is the type of energy needed to run the "junkyard" style of defense that Florida State has ran so well in recent years.
Montay Brandon was another one from that core group of youngsters that led the Seminoles in the second half of Tuesday's game. Brandon finished the game with 6 points, 5 assists, and 3 blocks, with more than half from each category coming in the second half. With the combination of Brandon's ball-skills and his impressive 6-foot-7 frame, he is able to penetrate the lane, creating space for open shooters, and that's exactly what he did in the second half. In the midst of this very aggressiveness, he carelessly turned the ball over after a beautiful steal -- but he's young, and these are mistakes that freshmen make while lost in the excitement. Brandon shows a lot of promise and dedication. Montay Brandon and Michael Snaer were the only Seminoles to play 30 minutes of basketball on Tuesday, so have confidence in the fact that Leonard Hamilton trusts him.
Coach Hamilton talked about wanting Boris to play more aggressive in creating space, attacking the boards, and blocking shots. Bojanovsky ended Tuesday night with 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots. He is still very much a raw talent, but I've already seen improvement since the exhibition games prior to the season. He does have quite a bit of touch, so if he can learn to box out and create space, he'll be a nightmare for opposing centers. But that's his problem. He hasn't become very comfortable in the paint and has trouble creating his own space. He did prove that he can block shots on Tuesday, which he will have to continue doing throughout the season if he wants to make an impact. But Boris did make an impact late in Tuesday's game taking away Gopher lanes and disrupting what they did so successfully in the first half.
Learn From It
This sophomore and these three freshmen were the fuel behind the Seminoles' second half fire. Minnesota is a pretty good team, and this will be a great learning experience for these young guys. They have to learn that they're not untouchable and that they can lose to anyone on their schedule. They'll take this tape and learn from their mistakes. There will be some up and some downs as this team progresses and grows, but they just hope they can find a way to win while they find themselves. This young Seminoles roster shows promise, and luckily they have the leadership to help them along the way.
"These young guys have never really been in that position -- being down by so many," Okaro White said. "It's very hard because you don't know the amount of energy it takes to fight through it as a young guy. It's very tough. The group of veterans we do have need to do a better job of rallying everybody together. This is just another learning experience for everybody and we'll learn from it."