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South Alabama Shoots Down Noles on Opening Night

The reigning ACC Champs proudly stood around the sparkling trophy they earned last season, looked skyward as the first ACC Championship Banner in program history was hung from the rafters, and turned the page to focus on a brand new year. And what a difference a year makes.

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

Last season, FSU beat the Jaguars from South Alabama 80-39, holding the visitors from Mobile to 0-24 shooting from behind the arc in the process. This year, South Alabama eclipsed the 40-point mark in the first half, on a thunderous put-back dunk just before the halftime buzzer sounded. This year, South Alabama shot 60% from the three-point line, making 9 out of 15 shots. This year, Michael Snaer had his potentially game-tying three blocked. This year, the Jags beat the Noles 76-71 in front of an announced crowd of 9,070—most of them leaving wondering what just happened.

FSU actually shot well in the first half, going 12-25 from the field (though only 2-7 from three). But a familiar nemesis allowed the Jaguars to not only hang around but in fact hold the lead for much of the first 20 minutes: Turnovers. 11 of them to be precise, with 4 coming from the pre-season Wooden Award candidate, Michael Snaer. Though to be fair, without the senior’s 10 first half points and five rebounds, the deficit might have been even greater. With Okaro White picking up two fouls in the first two minutes and Kiel Turpin also picking up two first half fouls, multiple freshman saw extended minutes and the results were what you would expect from freshman. Lots of defensive breakdowns.

The second half was much better in terms of both turnovers and defensive breakdowns, but South Alabama made big shot after big shot after big shot. Most of them by Antoine Allen, a diminutive junior guard from Baltimore. Allen led all scorers with 21, including going 4-5 from downtown. And those 10 points Snaer had at the half? That’s all he could manage for the game.

The Noles opened the second half looking much more like the team who won the ACC last season. Okaro White—limited to only 5 first half minutes-- came out aggressive on both ends, hitting a three and then throwing down a monster slam off a nice baseline drive. The latter tied the game up at 43 apiece with less than 2 minutes gone in the first half. The crowd was back in it and it appeared the Noles had woken up and were about to send USA back to Mobile with a loss. Except that didn’t happen.

The game was back and forth the rest of the contest. FSU took a 49-45 lead with just under 15 minutes to go, but they could never make the play to allow them to pull away. In fact, whether it was missed free throws, missed threes, or giving up offensive rebounds, the Noles continually made plays that prevented themselves from pulling away.

After the game, Coach Hamilton made no excuses. "Give South Alabama credit," Ham said. "They were tougher than we were. Played with more maturity."

South Alabama coach, Ronnie Arrow expressed similar sentiments. "You can’t coach experience," said Arrow. "[Our] trip to Canada was huge, 10 extra practices."

FSU’s inexperience showed time and time again, especially in the first half. The Noles finished with 17 turnovers in a 71 possession game—in other words a turnover on 23.9% of their possessions. 14 of those turnovers came in the sloppy first half! That has to improve in order for the Noles to have the kind of success they want this year, because it doesn’t look—or sound—like the defense will be quite as nasty…at least not for a while.

"We are not nearly as sound defensively as I think we will be," Coach Hamilton said after the loss. "We allowed them some key put-backs, some key rebounds, some key free throws."

Offensively, Hamilton spoke about having to simplify things a little and the importance of getting Devon Bookert healthy—allowing Ian Miller to play more at his natural two-guard position.

"Offensively we are not putting ourselves in the position to take advantage of our talents," Hamilton remarked after the game. "We didn’t handle their pressure as well as we are capable of."

So, where do the defending ACC champs go from here, now 0-1 on the young season? Terrance Shannon spoke after the game about having a short memory. Terry Whisnant spoke about learning from this and growing as a team and as individuals. Coach Arrow said, "FSU is a young team that is gonna develop into a monster. But it just takes time with youngins."

However, perhaps the biggest statements were the words not spoken by senior guard, Michael Snaer. The reigning ACC Tournament MVP, normally an affable, outgoing young man, didn’t have a whole lot to say after the game Friday night. He had a look on his face that appeared to be a mix of frustration and determination. If his body language was any indication, I’d expect a much better effort on Monday when FSU faces off against Buffalo. Hopefully, better results come with it.

Some Game Notes:

Hamiton spoke a lot about the guys needing to get in better shape. Some of it has to do with coming back from injuries (Shannon, Bookert). Some of it is guys who havn’t had to play extended minutes in their career (Whisnant, Turpin).

Speaking of Shannon, Coach said his late game injury was just a cramp. Which is good because he is very important to this team. He brings rebounding, energy, physicality. We NEED him healthy all year.

Montay Brandon played well overall. He could be a real asset to this team. Aaron Thomas was also spoken highly of by Ham after the game. Said his on-ball defense is great, but we just need to get him more aware with his off-ball defense. I expect both of the freshman to be huge contributors to the team.

Terry Whisnant hit several big threes in the second half to keep us in the game and played solid defense. Good to see for the young sophomore.

While Snaer finished with just the 10 first half points, he did stuff the stat sheet with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Unfortunately, he couldn't find his shot all night, going 2-11 from the field and 0-6 from three.