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Florida State basketball uses late run to top Flagler College in exhibition

A new season is upon us...thank goodness.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Miami (FL) Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

10/29 PM UPDATE: Florida State used a dominating final 5 minutes to pull away from a game Flagler College squad 90-74. The ‘Noles jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the opening two minutes, before getting into a back-and-forth affair over the next 30 minutes. Tied at 71, a long and athletic lineup that included Cam Fletcher, Jamir Watkins, and Taylor Bol Bowen ramped up the intensity and clamped down on defense for the win.

Watkins, a transfer from VCU, was the star of the show, making plays all over the court. He finished with 18 points on 6-6 shooting from the field (2-2 from 3), 6 assists, 5 steals, and 3 assists, flashing a Terance Mann type game. Baba Miller added 16 points and several other Seminoles were in double digits.

Check out the comment section below for a tease of a play-by-play, and stay tuned to Tomahawk Nation for articles and podcasts over the next two weeks as FSU gears up for the first game of the regular season on November 10th.

Most Florida State fans (yours truly included) are locked in on the rebirth of FSU football, and rightfully so. However, the oppressive humidity of Tallahassee summer being replaced by trees glowing with garnet and gold signals the return of another sport on campus, this one played on a hardcourt. Basketball is back, baby!

The Seminoles take to the court publicly for the first time Sunday in an exhibition match against Flagler College, the first of two exhibition games on the Noles’ schedule. The game starts at 4:00pm and parking and admission are both free. After the game, fans will be able to go down onto the court for an autograph session, so this is definitely a good opportunity to bring the family out for a cheap afternoon of entertainment.

To get you ready for the action, let’s take a look back at what’s happened since we last watched Hamilton and Co.

What happened last year?

Pain. So much pain. There was literal pain with injuries to multiple guys expected to be key contributors and there was figurative pain with Florida State’s play. Well, maybe watching that induced literal pain, too? The ‘Noles lost their opener to Stetson 83-74 and somehow that wasn’t even the worst non-conference loss. FSU began the season 1-9, went 7-7 over the next month and a half, and then went 1-8 to close things out. Yikes. However, the Seminoles managed to sweep the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals, so that should give you an indication of how bad the ACC was. Let’s just move on.

Who did FSU lose?

The college sports landscape has become one of immense season to season turnover and FSU was no exception. Caleb Mills, Matthew Cleveland, and Naheem McLeod all transferred, with two of them heading to fellow ACC schools (Cleveland to the Miami Hurricanes and McLeod to the Syracuse Orange). But just how big of losses were they? Meh.

Mills had his moments, such as a 27 point, 7 rebound, 3 assist performance against the Boston College Eagles, but he never seemed to truly fit into FSU’s offensive system and was hit or miss on defense. He did get to the free throw line a ton, so that’ll be something that needs replacing.

Cleveland was Mr. Double-Double for a long stretch, but he was also the least efficient offensive player on the team among players who played at least 25% of possible minutes.

McLeod had a few stretches of thunderous dunks, but was often a net-negative with FSU’s staff insisting on switching every screen on defense.

On top of those players, FSU also lost assistant coach R-Jay Barsh to Gonzaga. Barsh was only in Tallahassee one season, so it’s hard to say how much impact he truly had. All in all, the sum of the losses very well might end up being less than the individual parts.

Who’s new?

Florida State was active in the portal, bringing in Jamir Watkins from VCU, Josh Nickelberry from La Salle, and Primo Spears from Georgetown—although it remains to be seen if Spears will be eligible (due to multiple transfers). The Seminoles also welcome blue chip freshman Taylor Bol Bowen, out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, and essentially are “adding” Jaylan Gainey, a two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

To replace Barsh, Hamilton brought in Kevin Nickelberry from the Georgetown Hoyas. Prior to that he spent three years at LSU.

So what do these newcomers bring? We’ll certainly learn a lot more over the next few weeks when we finally get a chance to see them in garnet and gold, but at a minimum they bring length, athleticism, and some badly needed skill-sets.

Watkins, in particular, might be an immediate impact-player. Playing on a 27-win VCU squad, the bouncy 6’7, 210 pound wing was the team’s best defensive rebounder, among its leaders as a shot-blocker and theft-man, drew over 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, and shot 34% from three on more than 100 attempts.

Nickelberry will instantly upgrade FSU’s perimeter shooting, making 38% of his 366 attempts from deep over the last two seasons. This will take a big burden off Darin Green Jr., who at times last year was the only three point threat on the court.

Spears is a player who has similar qualities to Mills, except that when Spears dribbles, he’s typically attacking the hoop, as opposed to just dribbling into traffic. Unfortunately, Spears is a two-time transfer and given the NCAA’s supreme crack down on granting those waivers, it seems likely he may not be eligible this season.

Bowen is a classic Leonard Hamilton recruit. 6’10, long arms, very good lateral quickness, and a desire to lock people down. He legitimately could be FSU’s most disruptive defender from day one, not to mention a terror in the open court.

What will the starting lineup look like?

It probably doesn’t matter, because barring another season of terrible injury luck, Hamilton will gladly play 10 guys 15+ minutes a game. But if I had to guess, I’d say Jalen Warley, Green, Jr., Watkins, Baba Miller, and Cam Corhen. Some of the uncertainty is due to not knowing just how healthy Cam’Ron Fletcher and Gainey are, and how much full speed practice they’ve been able to do this summer. If Gainey is close to 100%, he could easily slide into the starting lineup given his defensive prowess.

The more important development for FSU will be the depth. Chandler Jackson and De’Ante Green will definitely play big minutes, too, and sophomore Tom House will be asked to contribute in spurts, as well. So even without Spears, that’s eleven players who should be able to sub in and out in waves.

What to watch in the exhibition?

Exhibitions don’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, as coaches often use them to test out roles and lineups they might never end up using in the regular season. But aside from just staying healthy, I’ll have a few different items on my checklist:

  • Can Miller transfer over his confidence and leadership from the FIBA World Championships?
  • How far along is Bowen in picking up Hamilton’s defensive principles?
  • How loud (and frequently) are the ‘Noles communicating on the court? New faces means communication will be critical.
  • Do guys like Jackson, Corhen, and Green look like the game has slowed down a bit from their freshman season?
  • Has House regained confidence in his shooting stroke?
  • Is the team pushing pace and looking to score early in the shot clock?
  • Can FSU get back to what it has historically done well under Hamilton: being a monster on the offensive glass and forcing turnovers?

What are you anticipating this season? What do you want to see in this exhibition?