The sample size remains small, but the Florida State basketball team continued its impressive start Friday night with a 67-43 win over Fordham in the team’s first of two games it will play in this weekend’s Jamaica Classic in Montego Bay.
Above the Rim
In many ways, the Seminoles’ defensive performance was a visit from the ghost of FSU teams past. Two games in, this looks like the best defensive team Leonard Hamilton has had in some time. The Seminoles matched their stellar intensity on the defensive end with excellent execution, especially considering the season is only two games old. This is turn led to the Seminoles limiting Fordham to .573 points per possession, FSU’s lowest points per possession mark allowed since November of 2011 against South Alabama.
Playing a role in this was the return of sophomore guard Trent Forrest, who made his season debut after missing both of the preseason exhibitions and FSU’s season opener with a bone bruise on his leg. Forrest, arguably the Seminoles’ best defensive player, led the charge which held the Rams to 23.1% shooting.
With that, there was again an excess of fouls for FSU on defense. This is somewhat to be expected with a team committed to such a chaotic defensive scheme, but there were plenty of circumstances, especially involving younger players, where a late reaction or ill-advised decision led to an unnecessary foul.
While things were very good on the defensive end, it was a night to forget on offense. A strength of this team offensively will be from outside the arc, evidenced by how many different Seminoles have shown capability from three-point range, but the shots were not falling on Friday. FSU finished the game hitting just 20.8% of its threes. Braian Angola was 2-5 from outside the arc, everybody else were a combined 3-19 (15.8%).
Additionally, the Seminoles turned it over 18 times and were a horrible 12-25 from the free throw line (48%). These trends are hardly promising, but an offense as up-tempo as Florida State’s lends itself to turnovers and it’s worth waiting to see if Friday’s charity stripe performance was a one-time hiccup or a preview of a glaring weakness that will linger all season.
It’s definitely worth noting that in early-season neutral-site tournaments, which are normally played in unique arenas and are unlike any other games on the schedule, there’s something to the notion of a win being a win. Losses in similar situations have proven damning for FSU on a few occasions over the last decade (vs. Hofstra in the Paradise Jam in 2015, vs. Harvard in the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2011). Not only did FSU avoid that bad loss Friday, the Seminoles overcame an extremely poor offensive showing to run away with a victory.
Buzz surrounding redshirt freshman Mfiondu Kabengele was palpable heading into the season. Friday’s game was a testament to what he is capable of.
In 12 minutes of play, Kabengele racked up a team-high 15 points, nine rebounds, five of which were on the offensive end, and added two assists and a steal. His impressive stat line in such minimal usage can be attributed to his impact in all phases of the game as well as his versatility. During his relatively brief appearance on Friday, Kabengele defended both on the perimeter and in the paint, ran the court, hit a transition three, attacked the glass, finished at the rim and displayed surprisingly competent passing ability. He was all over the place and did a little bit of everything.
Forrest was not heavily utilized on offense, finishing with just two points, but he stood out in other areas. His five assists were a game high and his six rebounds were tied for second most among all Seminoles.
Junior Terance Mann had an efficient 14 points on 7-9 shooting, displaying a greater confidence in his shot from midrange, and added five rebounds.
The strength of Mann’s game being his all-around versatility is no surprise. The surprise, however, may be that Florida State appears to have multiple additional players (Kabengele, Forrest, Angola) who fit this mold, giving them a whole drawer of Swiss Army knife players. That versatility may end up being the Seminoles’ greatest strength this season.
True freshman big man Ikey Obiagu looks to be a total liability on offense, but his four blocks in 11 minutes on Friday show his value as a rim protector.
Fellow true freshman M.J. Walker took a step back after his solid debut, going scoreless on 0-3 shooting (0-2 from three) in 23 minutes. However, the silver lining in that is the surprising maturity that Walker showed in realizing early on it wasn’t his night and feeding other players instead of forcing his shot. This is crucial on a team with as many scorers as this one.
The Seminoles are off tomorrow and return to action Sunday for their final game in Jamaica, a matchup with a Colorado State team that just lost 80-53 to Tulane. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m.