Phase One is Complete

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Phase one is complete. FSU, a year removed from losing to teams like Mercer and South Alabama, did what good teams do to outmanned and overmatched opponents on Sunday and beat Tennessee-Martin by 28 points. The win moved the Seminoles to 3-0 for the seventh time in eight years, giving Coach Leonard Hamilton his 200th* win at Florida State in the process.

It was a game that saw encouraging signs mixed with occasional sloppiness. Ian Miller, in his best shape since arriving in Tallahassee, was the brightest Seminole star on Sunday. The senior from Charlotte was perfect shooting the basketball en route to 20 points—his second career high in as many games.

“This is the first time he’s been healthy enough to show what he’s capable of doing,” remarked Hamilton after the game. “There’s a big difference between weighing 220 and 197.”

Indeed, Miller looks more explosive than maybe anytime since his high school highlight film (the one where he famously made a 30 foot buzzer-beater over John Wall).

“I think I’m back to playing like I was coming out of high school,” Miller said. Be the person [the team] can lean on if they need a bucket, and be the person [the team] can lean on if they just need somebody to create.”

He went on to note how much it helps on defense too, in terms of not letting his man blow by him. “Being able to practice…the weight was only a problem because I wasn’t practicing, so it was easy to drop the 25 pounds.”

Miller wasn’t the only Nole with a career high, as Aaron Thomas came off the bench to net 19 points and six steals. For the second time this season it was Thomas’ defense that drew high praise from Coach Hamilton.

“Aaron is working very hard to become an elite defender,” said Ham. “This was a very good game for him…and I think the fact that he’s energized defensively is making him a little more aggressive offensively…I’m very pleased with the progress he’s making.”

Thomas spoke after the game about his improvements from last season on both ends of the court.

“I worked on my shot a lot this summer,” said Thomas. “Last year…I just wasn’t confident in my shot, but over the summer I worked a lot on my form.”
br> When asked about his tenacity on defense, Thomas noted how everyone wants to score but in the ACC you have to play defense in order to win. “I’m trying to be first-team All-Defense,” stated Thomas.

Despite the 3-0 start, Hamilton noted that the Noles are still very much a work in progress.

“It was obvious that we got off to a slow start to the game and that does concern me a little bit,” said Hamilton. “The challenge for us is to get a little bit more cohesive.”

Part of that improved cohesion needs to come from the young guards and their help defense.

“This was the kind of dribble-drive offense that has consistently tested our defensive principles,” noted Hamilton. “Our post guys are doing the right thing by rotating over and contesting shots,” he continued, “but our guards are doing a pretty poor job of rotating down and helping the big guys…that allows them to get 15 offensive rebounds.”

Another concern for Hamilton was the high turnover percentage. However, as Rogner noted immediately after the game, many of those turnovers were kind of fluky (things like 3 seconds in the key) and Coach Ham stated his belief that a number of the turnovers were correctable issues.

With the Seminoles sporting an undefeated record, they now move into their second phase of the season; a phase that promises to bring significantly stiffer competition. Up next for the Noles, is a date with a top 15 Virginia Commonwealth team who is known for their “Havoc Defense.” Asked about what FSU needs to do in order to be successful against a team like the Rams, Hamilton stressed the need to continue to play as a team.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” Hamilton said. “We don’t really have a starting lineup. I think we have a starting nine. This is a team that really needs to win by committee. There’s no doubt.”

*In terms of actual on-court results, this was Hamilton’s 222nd win at FSU. However, 22 wins were vacated from the music class ordeal, so officially this was his 200th.

Other Notes and Quotes

• “Boy, I think they’re really good. Their length gives people problems. They’re really talented.” –UT-Martin Head Coach Jason James

• “Overall, I think we’ve gotten off to a pretty good start.” –Coach Hamilton

• “Montay has really improved his shooting form tremendously.” --Hamilton

• “I like what I’m seeing from Ojo on the boards. Tonight he had 6 rebounds in 12 minutes and that’s tremendous.”--Hamilton

• “Mentally he’s engaged into the game defensively and he’s trying to give back to us what we have asked of him.”—Hamilton on Ian Miller

• “It was a business day. Whoever shows up and has a name on their jersey different from ours, they’re the enemy for that 40 minutes.” –Hamilton when asked about playing his alma mater.

• Hamilton talked about working on not giving teams the dribble-drive opportunities into the “red-zone”— an area from the top of the key to the short corner. “Those are high percentage scoring areas.”

• Thomas talked about focusing on being more aggressive to the basket because the new rules can work to his advantage and get him more trips to the free throw line.

• Pretty much everyone talked about having to really be conscious of moving their feet and not reach and grabbing on defense due to the new rules.

• Ian discussed how having a guy like Devon Bookert on the floor with him really makes it easier for the offense to run smoothly. It helps both guys be better scorers and creators. He said, “It’s like when it was Toney and Derwin.”

• Hamilton noted that Kiel maybe “could have played” if we really needed him to, but he’s still not 100%. Said it’s possible he could play at some point down in Puerto Rico, but nothing is guaranteed.
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