Florida State came into their tilt with Florida knowing they could dominate out-manned opponents with impressive athleticism and endless depth. However, there were legitimate question marks regarding how the team would respond against a team that is equally—or perhaps more—talented and far more experienced. While it wasn’t always pretty, consider the Seminoles responded just fine.
Above the Rim
- There was noticeable energy and focus from the opening tip off. The offensive execution was lacking during the first 15 minutes, as the guys appeared a bit frazzled and indecisive. Some of this, I’m sure, was a product of UF’s top 15 defense flexing its muscle. But some of it appeared to be a bit of getting used to the intensity of the game. However, the effort and hustle allowed FSU to hang around and when the offense finally made a little run to take the lead late in the first half, the team never trailed again.
- The crowd was vocal and filled most of the lower bowl and about 1⁄3 of the upper level. It wasn’t anything close to the atmosphere I’ve seen in years past, but it got loud on a few occasions and the players seemed to feed off the energy. It’s a shame FSU has such low attendance because the Tuck really can be a difficult place to play when fans show up...and this year people are missing quite the entertainment.
- UF was able to dictate tempo early and locked FSU up with their half-court defense. The refs getting whistle happy didn’t help the early flow. However, after FSU was able to start to get deflections and steals, they revved up the tempo. This translated into numerous easy buckets and also helped wear down a Florida team that doesn’t have the depth of FSU.
- Speaking of the refs, they seemed determined to make it a free throw shooting contest in the first half. Look, I get that fouls have to be called. But not all contact is a foul. The second half was called a good bit looser and everyone from the players on the court to the fans in the stands seemed to benefit.
- Braian Angola-Rodas was a big time spark off the bench in the first half. He was aggressive to the rim in transition, he completed a four-point play that really helped ignite the crowd, and he was consistently getting his hands on the ball on defense. He only played 12 minutes, but he still had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. This is the beauty of FSU’s depth. You never know who is going to step up from game to game, and every one can play full out when they are on the court. Simply put, FSU doesn’t win this game without Rodas’ effort.
- Michael Ojo is a difference maker. The me of five years ago could not have imagined typing the preceding sentence, but he is a big part of this team’s success. His free throw shooting kept FSU within striking distance early in the game. Deandre Jordan and Andre Drummond need to come to Tallahassee and practice with Ojo because his improvement on the charity stripe is remarkable. Two years ago Ojo was 17-44 from the foul line. This year he is 27-36. He’s also rebounding over 20% of the available defensive rebounds and over 18% of the available offensive boards. Defensively he has active feet, communicates well, and frankly is just an intimidating presence in the paint. His transformation has been remarkable and Stan Jones and the Seminole coaching staff deserve heaps of praise for their work. Against the Gators, Ojo finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds (4 offensive), an assist and a block in 16 minutes of play.
- Getting KeVaughn Allen into foul trouble was big. Yuge. He still scored 16 points in just 20 minutes of play and nearly shot UF back into the game in the final five minutes. But his foul trouble forced him to be tentative on defense and FSU took advantage.
- Dwayne Bacon came out ready to win. He was aggressive from the start, but didn’t force the issue too much. There was a moment mid-way through the first half where he really lit into some teammates after FSU failed to get back on D. Then in the second half, when FSU needed its star, he simply took over. He was relentless in attacking the glass, got to any spot on the court that he wanted, and used his elite body control to finish one difficult shot after the next. Bacon is a prodigious talent, but has appeared to lose focus or relax at times during his career. Not last night. And if he stays dialed in like that on BOTH ends of the court during ACC season, not only will he accomplish what he set out to do when he announced his decision to return for his sophomore year (get FSU back into the NCAAT), but he will also become a millionaire next June. After last year, scouts I spoke with were concerned over his mental toughness and desire to be push himself and his team. Last night was a step toward changing that perception.
- Jonathan Isaac struggled in his first game back from injury. How much of that was due to rust? How much was due to the steep step up in competition? How much was due to playing in his first big-time college game? The truth is probably a bit of all three. But the youngster stuck with it and hit some big FTs down the stretch to help seal the victory. That will be confidence booster moving forward.
- Terance Mann stuffed the stat sheet once again, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and 1 steal. He also tied for the team lead (Bacon) in minutes, with 31. This is no surprise considering Coach Hamilton has raved about him for two years. Mann isn’t exceptional at any one thing (except for maybe having a knack for being in the right place at the right time on loose balls), but he plays within himself and has a motor that doesn’t quit. All great teams have a guy like Mann on the roster.
- Live ball turnovers were a killer in the first half, including a critical mental error by Trent Forrest late in the half where he simply lost focus and allowed the ball to be taken from him while standing still. In fact, FSU went to half turning the ball over on 23% of their possessions, leading to 18 points for UF. However, the second half was a different story, as the ‘Noles only turned it over on 13% of their possessions. FSU has been in the top 10% of teams nationally in protecting the basketball this season and continuing that trend will go a long way toward finishing over .500 in the ACC for the first time since 2012.
Coach Mike White
“KeVaughn [Allen] is not a big ‘foul trouble’ guy and I didn’t foresee him picking up that third [one]. It’s unfortunate for us, obviously we’re much better with him in the game.” —after being asked about his decision to put Allen back in the game late in the first half with two fouls.
“Credit Dwayne [Bacon] down the stretch. Couple late clock shots, a couple contested jumpers that he’s got an ability to make. He’s a terrific player.”
“How do you block out Ojo? My goodness...he’s strong, tough, physical, long, big hands...he’s something else.”
No, Florida state was better than us...we’ve shortened practices, we’ve given plenty of days off. It’s more of a maturity...a mental and physical toughness thing in my opinion.” —When asked if the grind of no home games so far on the season contributed to the team wearing down in the second half of games.
He’s [Dwayne Bacon] just really really talented. I thought he broke down our defense...probably caught it in spots late second half where he was operating with a live bounce a little bit closer to the rim than we would have liked him to have been operating. He’s just got an ability, with a high release, with an ability to fade a little bit with that release, and his ability really to just jump over you.”
Coach Leonard Hamilton
“Going into this game I had a lot of concerns...they’ve been playing very good basketball. The thing that concerned me the most was the fact that they’ve been in some real tough games. They’ve learned how to play well and grind it out in tight games. I was very concerned about their maturity level of their team compared to ours.”
“We were a little indecisive.”
“We had a hard time staying in front of them. They seem to penetrate into the heart of our defense at will.”
“We have shown the ability to recover quickly when we make mistakes. I like the energy and the camaraderie.”
“Terance has kind of turned out to be the leader. He never takes a possession off. I said early on last year, he’s a stat-stuffer. He does all the little things that it takes to win the game. He’s a winner. He’s a leader.”
Waiting at the Scorer’s Table
With a third consecutive win over the Florida Gators in their back pocket—and after playing 4 games in 8 days—the Seminoles will take a well-deserved breather before facing off against Manhattan in the Orange Bowl Classic this Saturday. The Jaspers are typically a strong team out of the MAAC, but have struggled this season and are just 3-7 heading into the neutral site match-up.