The Florida State basketball team ended its non-conference schedule the same way it began it: with a win. Now, that’s not to say that Monday’s win over Samford was flawless. Far from it, in fact. Regardless of how the game played out, however, the Seminoles overcame a poor first half to send the Bulldogs home with a loss, improving to 12-1 in the process and shooting into the top 20 of the RPI rankings at the end of the out-of-conference slate.
Above the Rim
It was an odd shooting night for the Seminoles. Samford, which normally runs a play-heavy offense, made a conscious effort in game planning for the Seminoles to break that trend and rely on extending possessions to slow the game down. This was done to spectacular effect early on.
The Seminoles shot 36.4% from the floor, committed seven turnovers, and averaged .939 points per possession in the first half, holding a too-close-for-comfort 31-27 lead.
This was in no way aided by FSU’s bigs being nearly entirely negated on the offensive end over the course of the entire game. The first Florida State power forward or center to register points was Michael Ojo, who dunked home a basket with 4:27 left in the first half. In all, Ojo, Christ Koumadje, Phil Cofer, Jonathan Isaac, and Jarquez Smith managed a combined nine points on 3-15 shooting.
This, in addition to the fact that FSU’s two leading scorers on the year, Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, were a combined 6-21 from the floor, meant that Florida State would need to summon some less-heralded scorers to provide the offensive spark. A number of Seminoles were happy to rise to the call.
Sophomore Terrance Mann led the way with a career-high 19 points on a riduculous 7-8 shooting. Junior point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes put up 15 points, including 3-6 from outside the arc. Trent Forrest added eight points as he continues to serve as a spark off the bench and Braian Angola-Rodas scored seven, including five straight points as a part of FSU’s crucial run early in the second half.
Florida State dominated the boards, as the ‘Noles should against a team with inferior size, outrebounding the Bulldogs 41-30. For as poor as the FSU bigs were at getting on the board, they performed well in a number of other aspects. The Seminoles held Samford’s freshman center Wyatt Walker, who entered Monday averaging a double-double, to four points on 2-4 shooting. Additionally, FSU finished the victory with 14 offensive boards, including three each from Ojo and Cofer as well as two from Isaac.
With those positives now addressed, the perimeter shooting issue that seemed to be a thing of the past reared its ugly head once again in Monday’s win must be discussed. As a team, Florida State shot 6-22 (27.3%) from outside the arc. Half of those makes came from Rathan-Mayes who was 3-6 from outside. This means that the rest of the Seminoles were a combined 3-16 (18.8%) from three. A game such as this where the ‘Noles’ three highest-volume perimeter shooters (Bacon, Isaac, and PJ Savoy) combine to go 1-12 from outside the arc would be difficult to overcome regardless of the opponent in conference play.
Rathan-Mayes may have had a shooting night to remember, but what this game will be better remembered for will be what he did in other facets. His team-high five assists paired up with two turnovers demonstrates the fact that he is capable of being both the scorer and distributor in the same game. His four rebounds all saw him make the effort that he has not consistently shown in that facet, and he was one of the team’s defensive leaders with regard to intensity at that end of the court.
Furthermore, I spotted Rathan-Mayes on multiple occasions staying very invested in the game while on the bench, standing up and encouraging his teammates that were in the game while he was resting. There were still a few moments where he made a questionable shooting decision, almost a staple of his game at this point, but if he is able to stay that involved and remain the team player that he has appeared to be so far this season, it could prove to be a difference as the Seminoles enter conference play.
Monday’s game was another test of what the ‘Noles would do when forced to play outside their comfortable pace of play. As Samford slowed the game down early on, the Seminoles looked utterly uncomfortable in half-court offensive sets. At the half, Florida State had accumulated zero fastbreak points as the ‘Noles were forced to rely on stout defensive play throughout the opening 20 minutes.
As I mentioned above, the Seminoles controlled the paint at the defensive end, even if the post play was nearly nonexistent on offense. However, the defensive success extends far beyond the interior play. In all, the Seminoles forced 14 Samford turnovers. That being said, a stat that doesn’t show up in the box score would be a lot more telling of how FSU’s defensive play was: deflected passes. Florida State got hands on countless Samford passes which, although they may not have always led to turnovers, prevented the Bulldogs from getting into any kind of a rhythm.
This defensive intensity, as well as the quality depth that head coach Leonard Hamilton so often raves about, paid dividends early in the second half. Samford’s five starters, who played 17, 16, 16, 15, and 12 minutes in the opening half, were fatigued and no longer able to prevent the Seminoles from getting out in transition after forcing turnovers or missed shots. This, in turn, led to Florida State being able to distance itself down the stretch.
Now, letting the Bulldogs cut the lead to as little as seven after opening up a 17-point margin is becoming a worrisome trend. The Seminoles blew an 18-point lead in their only loss so far this season to Temple and let the Florida Gators back into the game after they had them on the ropes. Against more talented teams, of which there are plenty in the ACC, a few poor finishes in close games could prove costly, especially if they come against teams who could be fighting for bubble spots with the Seminoles come Selection Sunday. That being said, the silver lining is that in the last two such efforts, FSU has responded to the late adversity and come away with victories in each of the games.
FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton
Florida State Seminoles Basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton talks after the win over SamfordPosted by TomahawkNation.com on Monday, December 19, 2016
“We can play at any pace. We can go fast, we can go in half-court. We just play to win and whatever we have to do to win, we’re going to do.”
On what’s different with this year’s team: “I just think we’re way deeper. It’s gonna go a long way for us in the ACC because it’s a lot of games in such little time and very physical. The depth is really going to help us.”
On having to rely on defense to win: “It’s a learning experience for us. It’s preparing us for ACC play. When we struggle like that offensively, we have to rely on our defense and I think we did a good job of that today.”
On the tough stretch to open ACC play: “You view it as a great opportunity. A great opportunity for us, a great opportunity for our program to see where we really stand. Coach Ham always talks about how 90% of ACC games come down to four points or less. We’ve just got to be prepared and keep improving day in and day out on the little things defensively, getting better offensively, and just becoming a better basketball team and being super efficient while we are out there. I think if we can do that and execute at the level that we know we are able to execute, we’ll be in position to do something special at the end of the year.”
Samford head coach Scott Padgett
"[FSU] may not have the best five [starters] in the country, but 1-12 it's pretty talented."
"If you've seen Space Jam, [FSU] looks like the Monstars inside."
Waiting at the Scorer’s Table
After wrapping out-of-conference play with an impressive 12-1 record, now the real challenge begins for the Seminoles begins. Starting with next Wednesday’s home ACC opener against Wake Forest, five of FSU’s first seven conference games are against currently ranked teams, with Virginia Tech as a sixth team on the fringe of the Top 25. Taking care of business against clearly inferior competition has been one thing, but we will learn a good deal about this FSU team in that immensely difficult opening stretch of ACC play.