FSU entered on a 3-game losing streak and absolutely needed a win against the over-matched Citadel Bulldogs. But with Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert out, we figured it would be an ugly game. And we were right.
The Citadel packed their zone tight, daring FSU to shoot from deep. In the first half this worked great, as FSU's young guys looked lost with two of the team leaders sitting out the game. The Noles knew they needed to attack the rim, but didn't know how to do it. They ended up settling for way too many jump shots that were not in the rhythm of the offense. Meanwhile, The Citadel slowed the game to a crawling pace and did just enough on offense to keep it close, going to the break down 22-19.
In the 2nd half, FSU came out and looked like a new team. Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Montay Brandon continually found the gaps in their zone, and once they penetrated the defense there was no way any of the Bulldogs could guard them without fouling. XRM starting knocking down 3s. Montay started getting to the rim. And the renewed energy did a good job turning stops into quick offense.
But the Bulldogs wouldn't lay down. Sure, they needed a miracle run of 3-point shots to stay in the game, but tip your hat to the kids who made them. They shot 6-7 from behind the arc in the 2nd half, with a couple coming from NBA range. Jake Wright, who entered the game 0-9 from three and without a bucket in his career, made 4-4.
So, in the end, the game was closer than it should have been, with the Noles winning 66-55. The score should only be partially concerning. FSU scored 66 points in a 52 possession game (1.27 per possession) which is very good regardless of the opponent. The Citadel scoring more than a point per possession, however, should be concerning, even with the crazy shooting. FSU's defense hasn't been good at all this season, and nothing I saw in this game changes that perception. Though all of this was without Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert, so just a tough game to evaluate. In the end, a win is a win.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored a career high 26 points on a ridiculously efficient 8-9 shooting. He was 5-5 from behind the arc, and 5-5 from the line. His ability to penetrate a zone seemingly at will was the most encouraging thing I saw in this game. Montay Brandon remains Mr. Consistent, putting in another solid overall effort with 19 points (career high), eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Michael Ojo played a career high 20 minutes, and is quietly emerging as FSU's top option in the middle. He had five points, and four rebounds while the other two bigs struggled (Bojo was sick, per Ham after the game).
FSU now hosts Charleston Southern on Friday, who knocked off Ole Miss in their season opener.