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FSU/Buffalo Game Recap--Noles Look Better

Better. Better was the word that kept coming to mind Monday night in the Don. Ball movement? Better. Offensive spacing? Better. Defensive effort? Better. Oh and the biggest thing of all, the result? Well, that was a whole lot better, as Coach Hamilton watched his new-look Noles defeat the visiting Buffalo Bulls 95-68.

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE
Now, do not confuse “better” with “good.” To be clear, this inexperienced team still has a long way to go before they can start dreaming of repeating as ACC Champs. However, this is the kind of performance a young team can build on. This is the kind of confidence booster that can carry over into practices and help the team take the next step—even if it is a baby step.

Okaro White started things off with two nice moves and five quick points, making it clear that no one wanted a repeat of Friday night’s tough lesson. Michael Snaer, who led all scorers with 19, followed that up with his first three of the year and FSU built a comfortable lead they would maintain all evening.

Yet, the biggest eye opener early on had nothing to do with the play of the offense, but rather with who was running the offense. True freshman Montay Brandon, a sought after recruit from North Carolina, started at point guard just two games into his career while Ian Miller slid over to the shooting guard spot. This coming on the heels of Leonard Hamilton being vocal about getting guys back into their natural positions after the opening night loss. And the new faces at point didn’t stop there. Devon Bookert, another true freshman expected to make a big difference, saw his first extensive minutes of the season as well, and Hamilton liked what he saw.

“Devon is probably the most pure point guard on the team,” Coach Ham remarked after the game. “I thought [he] was very clever with the ball.”

Together, the two freshmen combined to score 11 points, had a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio, and looked to have a decent understanding of the offense in their 38 minutes of combined play. But perhaps the best evidence of their impact was the play of guards Michael Snaer and Ian Miller, both of whom are clearly more comfortable playing off the ball. Friday against South Alabama the veteran guards combined to go 4-18 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times. Last night they scored 25 points on 7-17 shooting while only turning the ball over 3 times. That, my friends, is better.

Defensively, the energy level and communication were noticeably better. However, this side of the ball still has a ways to go—not to reach the lofty standards fans have come to expect from FSU defenses under Hamilton, but just to become a good defense.

“We still have a ways to go with executing our defensive fundamentals,” Hamilton said matter-of-factly after the game. “We gave up a lot of point blank lay-ups…[perimeter] rotations weren’t very good.”

Statistically, FSU held Buffalo to a 92.5 efficiency rating (essentially, if the game had 100 possessions, Buffalo would have scored roughly 92.5 points), which is a good bit better from the 103.1 given up in the first game against South Alabama. However, Hamilton is right—the Noles did give up a lot of easy buckets, which is something that must be corrected in order to have any chance of beating BYU on Friday. The Cougers are traditionally a strong offensive team and are ranked nearly 100 spots higher than Buffalo in the latest KenPom rankings. In fact, FSU will likely be the underdog entering Friday night’s game.

Another factor that cannot be overlooked, Friday will be the first game away from home for all of the newcomers on the team. And this won’t just be any road trip—the Noles will be playing in Brooklyn at the brand new Barclays Center.

After the game, Okaro White (who lived in Brooklyn for much of his youth) talked about making sure this wasn’t a sightseeing trip and keeping the young guys focused on the task at hand; avoiding a second loss in three games. In fact, White credited a players only meeting on Sunday led by himself, Snaer, Miller, and Terrance Shannon as one of the catalysts for last night’s improved performance. Replacing a natural leader like Bernard James is never easy, but it is good to see the veterans stepping up to fill the void.

In the meantime, the team will have to just keep working and getting—you guessed it—better.

“We haven’t been in this position (being so young) in a long while,” Hamilton said during the pres conference. “Right now we are young, inexperienced, and talented…and we have a lot of ways where we can improve. Hopefully we keep winning while we are developing.”

Other Game Notes:

Terry Whisnant continues to make heady plays and drain shots. Kid is so much better, more confident. That is going to be a big time plus this year if he can keep it up.

Kiel Turpin still needs to get more physical on D (he did have two very nice steals), but his shot and array of offensive moves is impressive.

Played 12 guys in the first half, with no one playing more than 13 min.

Brandon played very well on offense. Aggressive but under control.

Snaer was hampered with two first half fouls, but finished with a big second half, scoring 16 points in the final 20 minutes. Hopefully he has found his offensive groove.