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Courtside observations from Florida State basketball's win over VCU

Some observations from Florida State's significant non-conference win over Virginia Commenwealth in Atlanta.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State basketball team finished their five-game road trip on Sunday with a neutral-site non-conference game against the Virginia Commenwealth Rams at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, denying the late comeback by VCU to survive with a 76-71 win. Here are some observations from the Seminoles' win over the Rams.

1. FSU can win despite down games from Bacon and Beasley

In each of Florida State's first six games, they were led in scoring by a freshman (Dwayne Bacon four times and Malik Beasley twice). In the win over the Rams, Beasley and Bacon were both held in check, finishing with 10 points each, just the second time where neither has reached 20+ points. The two freshmen, who had accounted for 39 points per game (44.4% of FSU's scoring) through the first six games, represented only 26.3% of the Seminoles' scoring in the win over VCU. However, in the absence of a big game from the stellar freshmen who have done a good amount of the heavy lifting so far this season, many other Seminoles rose to the occasion. Terrance Mann provided nine points off the bench, with many of those coming in the final minutes of the closely contested game, Jarquez Smith added six points, and veterans Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon contributed five points each. The biggest game, however, came from the guard who led the Seminoles in scoring last season, Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

2. XRM still has it

Rathan-Mayes, who averaged a hefty 14.9 points during the course of the 2014-2015 season, has seen a reduced offensive output early in Florida State's season, with Bacon and Beasley leading the way offensively for the 'Noles. But on a day where the freshman phenoms were unable to take the game over, XRM rose to the occasion and showed that he is still very capable of scoring in bunches, as he demonstrated on multiple occasions last season. By the halfway mark of the first half, Rathan-Mayes had 13 points including 3-3 from behind the arc, where he has struggled this year. He finished with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, his highest points total since he had 30 against Clemson in the 2015 ACC Tournament. He also ended the game a very impressive 4-5 (80%) from 3-point range, a drastic improvement from the 15.4% he shot from outside in Florida State's first six games. In fact, he had as many three pointers in the win over the Rams as he had in the first six games combined.

3. Florida State's length will bother teams all season long

The first thing I noticed when starting lineups were announced was the drastic difference in size between VCU and FSU, by no means a new phenomenon for Florida State but it has often had little effect on the game in the past. On Sunday against VCU, it made a significant difference. Virginia Commonwealth's tallest starter was 6'7", over half a foot shorter than Boris Bojanovsky. The tallest member of their team is not much larger than that, coming in at 6'9". From the start of the game, the size difference was evident as the Rams' attempts to move the ball inside often proved futile. Bojanovsky finished with six blocks, one short of his career high, and affected countless other shots, forcing VCU's players to awkwardly shift their bodies to get around his lanky arms.

Beyond the interior defense Bojanovsky provided, the Seminoles forced 20 turnovers (16 in the first half)  which resulted in 17 points off turnovers. Many of these turnovers came from jumping passing lanes as FSU compiled 13 steals including 3 each from Bojanovsky, Beasley, and Rathan-Mayes which allowed them to run their preferred uptempo offense and led to 27 fastbreak points.

When asked about the challenge that Florida State presented defensively, VCU coach Will Wade said "Our first half dug us too big a hole, adjusting some to their length, how long they are. The passes that are open in practice are not open against them just because of their length. We had some trouble finishing down there."

4. Turnover troubles continue

Although Florida State did well to force 20 turnovers, they were only better by the slimmest of margins, committing 19 turnovers including 13 in the first half. Many of these came from running at an almost-hectic pace in an attempt to outpace VCU, often giving them the ball back instead. It's noteworthy to point out that the main offender against the Rams was not Rathan-Mayes, who committed five turnovers to counter his five assists in the loss to Iowa that immediately preceded this game. Instead, XRM showed much improved ball security, giving away a mere two turnovers over 38 minutes of action, the most he has seen in a single game this season. Instead, Dwayne Bacon led the Seminoles with five turnovers, the most he has committed this season. With seven games in the books, Florida State now has 103 assists and 101 turnovers, an improvement from their 0,79 A:T ratio from a season ago, but it's worth stating that the aforementioned ratio will likely drop off as the 'Noles hit the tough stretch of their schedule in conference play if they continue to struggle with ball security.

5. Florida State responded to adversity in a big way

The Seminoles faced a situation on Sunday not unlike that which they had encountered twice already this season: they were in a closely contested game away from home against a solid team. In the first two instances, against Hofstra in the Virgin Islands and at Iowa, they were unable to rise to the occasion and narrowly lost on each occasion. Against VCU, in a near-identical situation, FSU showed a resiliency that had been missing in the two losses. Yes, they let the Rams, who trailed by as much as 14 points in the first half, claw their way back into the game. But when they were trailing by one and it all seemed bleak, Terrance Mann responded with a big putback to regain the lead and on the ensuing defensive possession, Rathan-Mayes poked the ball lose and lobbed it ahead to Mann who hit a transition layup and put Florida State in control once again.

The team showed that although there is still room for growth, there is some maturation and development occurring already. The win over the Rams was a big step in the right direction, both for momentum's sake and for the sake of having a impressive non-conference win away from home when Selection Sunday rolls around. Enough can't be made of that as the lack of a solid non-conference win has denied many teams, including Florida State, from reaching the NCAA Tournament in years' past.