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FSU Basketball observations: Seminoles win one for ACC, take down Rutgers 78-73

It wasn’t always pretty, but FSU earns a solid road victory.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Above the Rim:

  • All road wins are good road wins. This won’t be the prettiest game Florida State plays this season, but the Garnet and Gold found a way to get a win on the road against a Power-5 opponent who had an abnormally hot shooting night, while FSU’s own primary scorers couldn’t throw it in the ocean. The win was the Seminoles’ second in a row in the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge, and its third straight over a Big 10 team. Most importantly, the ’Noles added 1.4 wins to their RPI record.
  • As has become a disturbing trend for FSU games in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, the refs felt the need to make their presence known. There were a total of 48 fouls, many called as far as 85’ from the basket. Additionally, there was a palming violation, ticky-tack travels, a review after the wrong player was assessed a foul, a ref calling a foul from mid-court on what was actually a flop (while the two refs standing right there correctly didn’t call anything), an obviously blown shot clock violation call, an unnecessary review on a 3-point shot that gave Rutgers a free timeout, and many more. This all helped to keep the pace down (just 33 first half possessions; 71 total, as Rutgers tried to extend game at the end), prevent either team from establishing a rhythm, and minimized the impact of FSU’s depth. The NCAA has taken some needed measures to increase the viewing pleasure of college basketball, but they must figure out a way to reduce the number of these early-season foul-fests that have become a yearly tradition.
  • The ESPNU broadcast was awful. They referred to Mfiondu Kabengele as Ike Obiagu at least three times and called the FSU football stadium “Doak Walker Stadium.” They discussed off-subject issues during significant moments. One of the producers was quite audible on the broadcast on multiple occasions. Just a poor, disappointing product put on by the “World Wide Leader”.
  • This was the first true road game of the year for FSU, and it showed to start the game. Awful shooting and miscommunication allowed Rutgers to establish some confidence and energy in the building.
  • FSU only turned the ball over on 12.7% of their possessions. Against a defense like Rutgers, that is a PHENOMENAL mark. The previous low for a Rutgers opponent this year was 21.9%, and only two teams took better care of the ball against Rutgers last season. In a game in which FSU didn’t shoot very well, its fundamental protection of the ball allowed them to win the game.
  • Second-chance opportunities for Rutgers were an issue as predicted. Rutgers gobbled up 44.7% of their misses, which would be first in the nation if they replicated that every game. FSU simply must improve on the defensive glass. Yes, missing Christ Koumadje hurts in this area, but he’s going to be out an extended period of time. If guys like Terance Mann and Braian Angola want to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, it’s imperative they contribute more than 3 combined defensive rebounds.
  • Coming into the game, we noted how poorly Rutgers shoots the ball. Through six games, the Scarlet Knights were 341st out of 351 teams in FT shooting (60%) and 321st in 3-point shooting (28.3%). Naturally, they shot 8-9 on FTs and 3-6 from the perimeter in the 1st half. The three-point shooting reverted to the mean in the 2nd half for the home team (2-11), but the FT shooting stayed hot all game, as Rutgers finished the game 16-20 from the charity stripe. This helped keep the game closer than perhaps it should’ve been.
  • Speaking of FT shooting, Seminole fans are going to be up in arms over FSU’s 20-32 (63%) performance, but the reality is it’s not a team-wide issue. Trent Forrest and Obiagu just aren’t skilled shooters at this point in their career, so when they take 10 free throws in a game, the results aren’t going to be stellar. They just aren’t. Outside of those two, FSU shot 17-22 (77%) from the line.
  • FSU had a chance to stretch the lead out early in the 2nd, as Rutgers went cold, but FSU simply couldn’t take advantage. Then CJ Walker got hot, and the defense began racking up the live-ball turnovers. The lead stretched to 8, and while the ’Noles could never push it out to a comfortable margin, the Scarlet Knights never could get closer than 3 down the stretch, as CJ had an answer time and again.
  • FSU switched to a zone at times in the 2nd, and it was effective in confusing Rutgers and clogging passing lanes. As anyone who follows FSU basketball knows, Coach Hamilton is a firm believer in pressuring the ball with an extended man-to-man defense. However, with the foul situation, it was critical for a young FSU team to execute its zone defense.
  • The first game against a top-125 team showed just how precarious FSU’s depth situation is. Without Koumadje, the Seminoles essentially played just 9 guys (Brandon Allen played 1 minute).

Court Level:

  • Phil Cofer was phenomenal in the 1st half. He kept FSU in it while everyone else was cold and without his efforts, FSU walks away with a loss. His 37 minutes tied a career-high (the previous one was a 2-OT game), and his 19 points was the 4th time he’s scored 15+ already this season. His four 3-pointers were two fewer than he made all of last season! What a treat it’s been to watch this senior blossom.
  • CJ Walker stepped up big time. At times late in the 2nd half he was the only guy on the court who appeared confident in the moment and willing to take a shot. Without his efforts, FSU walks away with a loss. His 24 points smashed his previous best of 13, and he also had some perfectly executed bounce-passes on back-door cuts. On top of that, he played hounding defense, leading FSU with four steals, and he didn’t commit a single turnover. On a night when FSU’s more prominent stars were off, the Indianapolis native willed his team to victory.
  • M.J. Walker played, which was great to see after he left the previous game injured. Unfortunately, this was his worst game as a ’Nole. Limited by foul trouble (once again), he was held scoreless. Hopefully it was a good learning experience for the freshman.
  • Angola was another guy way off his game. If he shoots up to his normal ability, FSU wins going away, but he struggled, going 1-7 from the field. He wasn’t forcing much; he just couldn’t get anything to fall. He did have 4 assists, but even those were offset by an uncharacteristic 5 turnovers. We’ve seen Braian come up huge on big stages before, so this was likely just an off-night.
  • Obiagu is a legit rim protector. I mean, he can flat out change the game with his shot-blocking abilities. His come from behind block with a couple minutes left might have sealed the game. However, he is a long way away on offense right now, especially at the FT line. He seems to be a guy with a high IQ for the game, and Stan Jones is a renowned developer of big men, so I’m excited for his future. But right now it’s difficult for FSU to have him near the ball in late game situations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see opponents start employing “hack-an-Ike” when trailing.

Looking Ahead:

The Seminoles travel back to Tallahassee, win in hand, for nearly a week before heading down to Gainesville Monday to square off against their arch-rival to the southeast. The Gators have a loaded squad and thus far appear to easily be one of the top-10 teams in the country, so coming away with a road victory will certainly take an outstanding effort.