The Florida State men's basketball team returned home for the first time in nearly a month Sunday, topping the Southeastern Louisiana Lions by a final score of 75-58 at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee. Here's how.
It was apparent early on that the Lions' goal was to shorten this one and thus negate the Seminoles' talent advantage and preference of playing an up-tempo game. It's a strategy we've seen employed against the FSU football team as well-- limit the more skilled squad's touches, decrease its opportunities to make plays and run away with the game.
This worked well for SLU, as the Seminoles once again struggled to find seams against the zone. Passing it around the perimeter, especially without utilizing skip passes, is seldom going to beat a zone, and the early 'Nole shooting certainly didn't help much either. An ice-cold FSU began just 3-14 from the floor. Poor shooting (33.3%) combined with just 29 first-half possessions saw the 'Noles register only 29 first-half points.
Answering the Bell
Things picked up as the half progressed, however, primarily due to a couple of key contributions from the bench, the biggest of which came from Benji Bell, who had his best game as a Seminole. Bell seems the most naturally adept perimeter player at attacking a zone defense, as he's proficient at mid-range drives followed by passes to bigs in soft spots. He showed an especially nice chemistry with fellow bench-contributor Phil Cofer, who moved well inside against the SE Louisiana defense.
Bell's final line may show just one assist, which came when he found Cofer for a dunk, but his passing was more more critical and effective than that-- it's a big reason Cofer found himself at the free-throw line six times. Cofer sunk five of those attempts and finished with nine points in 14 minutes. Bell led all 'Noles (11 of whom scored) with 18 points (4-4 on threes) and also chipped in four boards and a steal in logging 26 minutes with Devon Bookert out, which meant he got some time at the point and did not commit a turnover.
Bell helped FSU accelerate the pace of play some in the second half, as the Seminoles' possessions lasted two seconds less than those in the first half. And this meant ten more possessions in the second half than they had in the first, during which the 'Noles shot 50% from the floor. It's pretty simple: the faster Florida State plays, the better it plays.
The Little Things...
Dwayne Bacon once again struggled. He was benched about 90 seconds into the game after picking up his second foul, as he continues to search for that proper defensive balance of effort and intelligence. Bacon finished with just two points on 1-6 shooting and two rebounds.
FSU played a pretty clean game, finishing with just nine turnovers. But that really could have been a lot lower, as the 'Noles had just one at halftime before throwing some balls away in the final 20 minutes. However, a lot of passes led to points, too. Florida State had 23 field goals on 17 assists.
...And the Big Picture
This was a rather forgettable game for the 'Noles-- and that's hardly a bad thing. Nothing dramatic happened: no injuries, no last-second drama. This was never a contest that was going to factor into FSU's tournament resume, unless it was for a negative reason. That being the case, the Seminoles, though sluggish out of the gate, got the lead and then extended it consistently, putting this one in the rear-view mirror on a day when they were less than their best. It's not the sexiest thing in the world, but that's what good teams do.