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Basketball Observations: Florida State finds their shot, beats Virginia Tech in Blacksburg

ACC road wins are a precious commodity and the Seminoles just brought one back to Tallahassee.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State had to get at least one road win on this two-game swing and the Seminoles came through in Blacksburg, Virginia. Underdogs coming in, FSU led for the majority of the game en route to a 91-82 victory.

Above the Rim:

  • Making shots helps. I know this is overly simplistic, but it doesn’t matter how crisp your offense is if you don’t put the ball in the basket. Coming off their worst shooting game of the season, Florida State was hot from the start, making 6 of 13 threes and sporting a 66.7% effective FG% in the first half. On the game, FSU shot 53% from the field (61.2 efg%), 45% from three, and 77% from the free throws--most of which came down the stretch as the Seminoles closed out the win. Five players scored in double figures, with a sixth at 9 points
  • The energy was much better. Against Boston College, Florida State was playing their second game in three days and their legs (and shots) showed it. With five days of rest, it looked like a totally different team. Not just better shooting, guys were getting to 50/50 balls, crashing the glass with authority, and being aggressive to the basket.
  • Coach Hamilton managed the game very well. The switch to a zone defense gave VT problems for a long stretch, allowing FSU to push out the lead. Putting Mfiondu at center paid dividends at both ends and significantly contributed to VT’s Kerry Blackshear fouling out with 10 minutes remaining in the contest. Christ Koumadje, normally less effective when opponents go small, was used at just the right times leading to 10 points in 15 minutes (on 5-6 shooting) for the big man. And Hamilton managed the timeouts well to allow FSU to have several to take down the stretch to bail them out of dicey situations.
  • Inconsistency continues to be a problem, which is to be expected for a team still learning how to win, but the ‘Noles took a step forward with their second half performance today. In previous games, FSU was unable to hold large half time leads, largely due to self-inflicted wounds. But against Virginia Tech, the Seminoles committed turnovers on only 10.5% of their second half possessions and fouled just six times after halftime. This forced to VT to earn everything they got and allowed Florida State to extend their three point halftime lead out to double digits for much of the half.
  • Defensive rebounding has slowly but surely improved. At one point FSU was ranked in the bottom 10% in the country for defensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of opponents’ missed shots that FSU grabbed). After the VT game, the Seminoles are up to 271st in the country, which is still in the bottom 25% of the nation but a marked improvement. Obviously having Koumadje back has helped in this department, but the real difference has been better commitment and execution by the guards. Trent Forrest has led the charge, grabbing 5+ defensive rebounds for the second time in three games. But credit guys like CJ Walker and M.J. Walker for doing a better job on the glass as well.

Court Level:

  • Mfiondu Kabengele is coming along very nicely. Yes, he still has freshman moments, but he is turning into a difference maker on both ends. He already owns the highest usage rate on the team (meaning the percent of possessions a player is used while on the court) and he continued to fill up the stat sheet against VT. Playing just 18 minutes, Kabengele finished with 9 points, 8 boards (four offensive), a block, and several other shots that he altered or disrupted. Earlier in the season he appeared to be overwhelmed at the speed and physicality of big time basketball. For example, against UF he played 12 minutes and finished with 0 points (0-6 shooting) while grabbing just 2 rebounds. But the last few games it appears like things are starting to slow down for him. He still fouls too often (6.1 fouls per 40 min), but his increased comfort and awareness on the court is obvious. It reminds me of another long, raw athlete who was methodically developed by Stan Jones. Some guy by the name of Al Thornton.
  • M.J. Walker played his best game as a Seminole. After the Boston College game I wrote that it appeared Walker might be hitting the freshman wall. A great spot up shooter coming out of high school, his shots had started falling short and his mental errors were increasing. The long layoff after the BC game couldn’t have come at a better time for the freshman from Jonesboro, Georgia. After making just 2 of his last 16 threes coming into Blacksburg, Walker drained 4-7 from outside en route to a career high 24 points. Additionally, he grabbed six rebounds—also a career high—and came up with a critical steal late in the game to help seal the win. Now, part of it was the fact that Virginia Tech seemed disinterested in defending anyone. Nonetheless, it’s a confidence building game that can be built on as ACC season grinds on.
  • CJ Walker, for the most part, played smart and controlled basketball—which is exactly what this team needs from its sophomore point guard. He still took a wild shot here or there, but his 7 assists (to only 2 turnovers) were a career high. On top of that, his 3-5 performance from beyond the arc—all in the first half—were huge in getting FSU out to a halftime lead and ripped down five big defensive rebounds as well.
  • Phil Cofer had a quiet game, with just 8 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists in 28 minutes of action. But his one rebound was a monster. Leading 76-70 with about a minute and a half left, Braian Angola missed a three. If VT grabs the board they can get out in transition and likely cut the lead to 4 or even 3 points. But the senior did exactly what you need senior leaders to do and came up with a massive offensive rebound in a critical situation. This allowed FSU to bleed another 12 seconds off the clock before Angola was fouled and made it a three possession ball game.

Looking Ahead:

FSU returns to Tallahassee for a two-game home stand beginning with Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The Yellow Jackets are one of just two ACC teams ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom.