The Florida State men’s basketball team improved to 3-0 on the 2016-2017 season Friday night, besting the Winthrop Eagles by a final score of 100-86. While the Eagles presented a feisty challenge, the ‘Noles led for over 36 of 40 minutes, and this one was effectively over well before the final whistle in front of 5,197 fans at the Tucker Center. The game was FSU’s first in the NIT Season Tip-Off event— here’s how it went down.
Above the Rim
That subtitle looked to be even more appropriate early on in this one, as both of these up-tempo teams came out like they’d hydrated with Red Bull. A frenetic pace that saw very little defense wound up with each squad shooting over 70% from the floor at the first media timeout. Winthrop, the early favorite to win the Big South Conference, was fearless on both ends of the floor from the opening tip, going right at the basket and getting point-blank looks on its first four possessions of the game.
Defensively, the Eagles were the first squad we’ve seen this season that did not try to negate FSU’s athleticism and desire to play at a quick pace by packing back into a zone defense, going straight man throughout. Both teams struggled to stay in front of the other’s perimeter players, especially Florida State. Winthrop’s spritely Broman brothers, Anders and Bjorn, at 6-2 and 6-0, respectively, had little trouble getting around ‘Nole defenders. This created what was effectively a number of power plays for the Eagles’ offense, and FSU conceded some easy looks as Winthrop notched 1.062 points per possession.
However, the Seminoles again played selflessly, moving the ball well and notching 1.22 PPP, while outshooting the Eagles 49% to 44%. This game was really over with a handful of minutes remaining, and that should not be looked down upon. Squads like Iona and Winthrop, each of which could wind up in the NCAA Tournament, are dangerous teams to play early in the season, and FSU was never in jeopardy of losing to either.
Florida State is doing exactly what it needs to at this early stage of the season: it’s figuring out its rotation, getting ample minutes for a bevy of players, and gaining victories against quality, if not big-name, opponents that could certainly help come Selection Sunday. Losses teach lessons, but if these ‘Noles can continue to grow and learn without taking Ls, well then that’s all for the better.
Consistency from the free-throw line, precision long-distance shooting, and single-digit turnovers: just another day for FSU basketball, right? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
But did the ‘Noles ever look better in the aforementioned areas that have been weak spots in the past. Let’s start with the freebies. Florida State made its first seven from the charity stripe, 17 of its first 20, and finished 22-29, for 76%. That’s a nice uptick from the 71.2% that the Seminoles were shooting coming into this one.
Leading the way was Michael Ojo. Again, in case you’ve not yet had your coffee: leading the way was Michael Ojo. Ojo was 9-12 from the line, which helped him to a career-high of 13 points; he also posted a new career best with 10 rebounds. Winthrop had no answer for Ojo on the inside, but he wasn’t the only FSU big with whom the Eagles struggled.
Christ Koumadje was 7-8 from the field, and he also registered a new career high with 14 points. Of those seven baskets, I believe six were dunks, as the ‘Noles are doing a nice job at not overthinking how to use him. When Florida State penetration drew Winthrop bigs to come off Koumadje just a half step, the Seminoles simply threw the ball up in front of the rim for him, and he did the rest. There’s no reason to overcomplicate what 7’4 and a wingspan like a California Condor can do for you.
Ojo and Koumadje were two of five FSU players to finish with double-digit points, and the others used dead-eye long-ball accuracy to get there. Dwayne Bacon nailed three of seven from downtown en route to a team-high 15 points, Jonathan Isaac made three of six to post 14, and Braian Angola-Rodas converted his one attempt to finish with a new FSU career-high of 11.
Angola-Rodas was again a breath of fresh air coming off the bench for Florida State, specifically defensively. He had two steals, but also disrupted the Eagle attack when it looked early on like both teams might go over 100 in this one. The ‘Noles were a better team with the spark-plug Angola-Rodas in the game on Friday; it’s quite appropriate, and far from surprising, that he had the best +/- rating of any Seminole, at a +20.
Overall, FSU hit 8-20 from beyond the arc, a clip of 40%. And there’s more help on the way. PJ Savoy, Florida State’s best outside shooter, actually warmed up with the team on Friday, even though he again missed the game due to turf toe. However, a source within ‘Nole basketball told me that Savoy’s getting closer to being ready.
When he does return, he’ll add to what is already a deep rotation. Once again, FSU went 11 deep before the game was 10 minutes old, and no Seminole logged more than Bacon’s 29 minutes.
And across those 11 Florida State contributors (who all scored and had a rebound), only Isaac committed more than one turnover— and he had just two. The Seminoles finished with just seven turnovers on the night. Although it would probably bode well for the ‘Noles if that number were a bit higher. Yes, I realize that that sounds crazy, but this game was slowed down to a ridiculous pace by the officials, who saw fit to call a combined 51 fouls in 40 minutes. Sure, no team aims to give the ball away, but FSU wants to go fast, and refs allowing a game to play out, even if it means a few more ‘Nole turnovers, would, ultimately, benefit Florida State. That said, the Seminoles did well to play within the framework set down by the overactive zebras.
It’s worth noting that Phil Cofer played just four minutes on Friday before sitting out with a mild ankle sprain. We’re told that he hit the bench as a precautionary measure, and the reality that the ‘Noles could forge on without him is a positive, even if Florida State is certainly better with him contributing, which they most definitely are.
Another nice sign, moving forward: reserve guard CJ Walker was coordinating the FSU defensive scheme while fellow sub Trent Forrest completed his 5-6 night from the free-throw line in the game’s final minute that ultimately put Florida State into triple digits. That’s great to see from a first-year player who was not taking a single possession for granted, even with the win in hand.
To sum up: when a team as talented as FSU is getting across-the-board help in making its free throws, threes, and turning it over on just 8.5% of its possessions, it’s going to be a damn tough squad to beat.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes on the FSU bigs: "It makes it so much easier. When Ojo and Christ play big-time like that, it opens up so much for us. Christ runs the lane so well, he's the tallest guy on our team and probably one of the fastest. He puts so much pressure on defenses when he plays like that, when he plays with confidence and, like I said, he just opens up the floor for us. If he can keep playing like that for us, we've got a chance to be really special."
Ojo on his role: "Do whatever it takes to put our team in situations to win basketball games. If it's me setting ball screens, playing solid defense, blocking shots, getting double-doubles, making free throws, whatever it takes, I'm willing to sacrifice that for this team to put ourselves in a situation to make something happen this year."
Ojo on Christ: "It's a fun thing seeing Christ grow from that freshman-year mentality, that high-school mentality, to being a college basketball player now. Christ has put in the work. All the big men, we really make that stride going against each other in practice every day. . . I'm proud of Christ. He's working hard every day."
More Ojo: “It only took five years for me to get a double-double, that would be the surprise. It’s been my goal to do what this team needs to win games: setting ball screens, shooting free throws. Trust me, I’ve been working on my free throws since my freshman year. Transferring it from practice to the game.”
FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton on the bigs’ rotation: “When you have three big guys like that, it gives you a little bit of an advantage if they can just continue to keep sharing playing time and giving us the kind of play they gave us tonight.”
Hamilton on second-half adjustments: “We settled down in the second half and defended a lot better. We wore them down a little with the quality of our depth."
But perhaps my favorite quote came from Winthrop Head Coach Pat Kelsey, about facing Florida State: "It’s like a couple root canals playing with their size and athleticism."
Waiting at the Scorer’s Table
It’ll be a quick turnaround for the ‘Noles, with less than 48 hours between games. Up next is a visit from Detroit, which will tipoff at 5 pm on Sunday at the Tuck. The game against Detroit marks the second half of the Tallahassee NIT schedule, after which the Seminoles will play the next leg in Brooklyn.