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Observations from FSU basketball’s win over Wake Forest to open ACC play

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‘Noles start conference play with solid victory over Demon Deacons

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Florida State
XRM drives to the basket vs. Wake Forest Wednesday night
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Florida State opened up conference play Wednesday night with a home tilt against an upcoming Wake Forest squad and survived 88-72 with a late flurry on both ends of the floor.

With the win, the Seminoles improve to 13-1, tied for the best start since the 1988-89 season. Let’s take a look at the good and bad from their ACC opener.

TEAM NOTES

  • FSU finished strongly: the ‘Noles outscored the Demon Deacons 49-32 over the final 20 minutes. In the 2nd half, Florida State held Wake’s top-20 offense to a measly 0.84 PPP, while they poured in 1.29 PPP on the other end. Leonard Hamilton’s squad hit 15 of their final 20 shots from the field (they shot 62% in the period) and made 14-17 from the charity stripe after intermission.
  • Speaking of free throws: FSU shot 15 more than WF, while making 13 more. On the night, the Seminoles were 23-31 from the stripe, good for 74%.
  • Florida State held Wake Forest’s best player, John Collins (entered averaging 17 PTS/10 REB) to a paltry TWO POINTS (ten fewer than any other game this season) and three rebounds (previous season-low was six), as the ‘Noles were able to get him in foul trouble early, limiting him to 18 minutes.
  • After getting off to a very slow start, Coach Ham went to a lineup of CJ Walker, Trent Forrest, Braian Angola-Rodas, Jon Isaac, and Christ Koumadje. This unit was actually able to turn an 8-point deficit into a small lead in their time on the floor. In the second half, it was a more veteran unit of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann, Jonathan Isaac, and Jarquez Smith who led a 17-0 run to put the game to bed, as they did a great job contesting shots and rebounding the misses, leading to transition offense and easy points.
  • As you can see in the previous paragraph, Leonard Hamilton continues to use his full roster, and so far this season, it’s definitely been to Florida State’s advantage. On the night, 11 Seminoles played 10+ minutes, while Danny Manning only used 9 Demon Deacons for 10+ minutes. One can’t say for sure, but it sure seemed as if FSU’s depth wore Wake out down the stretch.
  • Even though the final score looks like it was an easy win, that doesn’t tell the story. And although Wake Forest turned the ball over on 21% of possessions, Florida State wasn’t much better, coughing it up 17% of the time, and combined with poor shot selection, allowed the Demon Deacons to get out and run, leading to just the second halftime deficit for the ‘Noles this season.
  • FSU also gambled too much defensively in the first half, leading to uncontested jump shots for a good-shooting Wake Forest team. Coach Hamilton noted that they didn’t really change their strategy at halftime; guys just executed better on the defensive end, and it showed on the scoreboard.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES

  • Rathan-Mayes has really improved this season, and he was the player of the game, once again, Wednesday night in Tallahassee. The junior point guard tied for the team lead with 23 points, while also contributing seven rebounds, three steals, and two assists (against only one turnover). He also made 7-10 free throws. His defense continues to be a positive this season, as well. On the evening, XRM eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his FSU career. He joined his father, Tharon (who was in attendance), as the only father-son duo to accomplish that feat in ACC history, although Florida State wasn’t a member of it’s current conference until the early-1990’s.
  • Bacon was the other Seminole to tally 23 points on Wednesday, as he shot 8-15 from the field and 6-7 from the stripe. The sophomore wing really took over in the 2nd half, as he decided he wanted to get to the basket, instead of settling for 3-point shots. I know NBA scouts wanted to see an improvement in that area for the former McDonald’s All-American (and he’s definitely gotten better), but he’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket. Bacon and XRM are the first FSU pair with 20+ points in the same game since Bake and Malik Beasley did so last season against Davidson.
  • Isaac only shot 4-11 from the field, but the freshman phenom contributed 12 points, a team-high 9 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and two steals. He still gambles far too often on defense (like last year’s freshman star, Beasley), but he’s still FSU’s most talented player and best defensive rebounder, and it’s encouraging to see him contribute even when he starts slowly and doesn’t have his best offensive game.
  • Walker was a spark-plug tonight, in his return from a minor knee injury that caused him to miss the Manhattan and Samford games. In fact, I’d go as far as to say FSU doesn’t win this game without the southpaw’s services. The freshman backup point guard from Indianapolis tied a season-high with 13 points (Illinois) in only 13 minutes, as he made 3-6 from deep. He started his college career 0-6 from beyond the arc, but has since sunk 9-19 (47%) from the perimeter.
  • On the other end of 3-point shooting spectrum is sophomore PJ Savoy. The Las Vegas native missed the first six games of Florida State’s season with turf toe, but then came out guns blazing, making 15-29 perimeter shots (52%) in his first four games. However, in the last four games, he’s struggled, making only 1-11 from beyond the arc and 1-13 overall. Most shooters are very streaky, so hopefully Savoy will regain his form for ACC play, as the ‘Noles are sure to play many close games and will need some solid perimeter shooting to keep defenses honest and win games.
  • Another Seminole who’s really struggling is Phil Cofer. He played 13 minutes and only contributed one rebound, while also committing a turnover and a foul. FSU only has four true post players and none are stars, while all are prone to foul trouble. This opens up potential playing time for the junior from Atlanta, but he doesn’t seem to be the same player who showed promise as a freshman; I don’t know if it’s the injuries, a lack of confidence, or both, but it’d be nice for him and Florida State if he’s able to produce consistently and round out Coach Hamilton’s 12-man rotation.
  • Let’s end on a positive note: even though it’s Christmas Break, the announced attendance was still 8,873. That’s seemingly a decent number (for FSU roundball), and I hope it only improves as the students return to Tallahassee, and Florida State continues to play well.

UP NEXT

It doesn’t get any easier for FSU, as they travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia Saturday at 2 pm on ESPNU. Tony Bennett’s Cavs are coming off a very impressive 61-53 win at Louisville (final score isn’t indicative of UVA’s domination). I would expect the ‘Noles to be decided underdogs this weekend.