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Florida State obliterates Kennesaw State for season opening win

A wire-to-wire win for the Seminoles.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Florida State opened the season by trailing Stetson for nearly 40 minutes in a 83-74 home loss, ultimately not winning their first game until their 5th attempt. This is not last season. The Seminoles jumped on the Kennesaw State Owls from the get-go, playing with significantly more pace on offense and purpose on defense to dismantle the defending Atlantic Sun Conference champs 94-67. Darin Green, Jr. led the ‘Noles with 18.

First Half:

Florida State was aggressive from the start, generating multiple deflections on the first defensive possession, culminating in a steal and the ball being immediately pushed up the court for a Cameron Corhen bucket. Baba Miller grabbed a defensive rebound on second possession, hesitated for a split second, and then remembered how much his coach has been preaching to push pace. This time it resulted in two Jalen Warley free throws and FSU never looked back.

Green, Jr., playing with a noticeable confidence and renewed lift in his legs, splashed a nothin but net three, then hit a pull up, mid-range jumper off a pump fake and it was 11-6 FSU at the under 16. Even more impressive, FSU already had 10 possessions.

After the timeout, Coach Hamilton took things back to 2018 and brought in a hockey style, full-line change. The second unit, consisting of Chandler Jackson, De’Ante Green, Cam’ron Fletcher, transfer Josh Nickelberry, and freshman Taylor Bol Bowen took a few minutes to put the points on the board, but they were extremely disruptive and active on defense from second they stepped on the court. While they didn’t grow the lead all that much, this level of functional depth goes a long way toward running the opponents’ legs into the mud. This defensive pressure included token full court press after makes, with half court pressure extended out to half-court at times.

Much of the game flow between the 12 minute mark and the 6 minute mark consisted of FSU doing enough at both ends to keep the Owls at an arm’s length. Some missed opportunities in transition, often times a result of dribbling up the court instead of passing, prevented the lead from being double digits. However, the Owls turning it over on greater than 20% of their possessions and shooting poorly from deep prevented them from putting any real pressure of Florida State.

This all changed at about the 5 minute mark. Warley grabbed a defensive board and pushed it ahead to sophomore Tom House, who stepped confidently into a transition three and drained it. This was followed by Green, Jr. hitting a deep three plus some harm on the next trip down. He didn’t convert the 4-point play, but Fletcher muscled in for an impressive offensive rebound, kicked it to House who buried his second three in 45 seconds. Just like that it was 40-25 FSU at the 4:05 mark, after being 31-23 at the 4:45 mark.

House made one more three and FSU went into halftime up 49-34. Green, Jr. had 15 points in the opening stanza on 5-7 shooting. And unlike the exhibitions, FSU shot well from three while their opponent struggled mightily, going just 2-15 from deep in that half. Relentless activity and ball pressure from FSU’s switching defense led to some rushed shots and several air balls.

But perhaps the biggest change from last season was the depth. FSU played 10 guys at least 5 minutes in the half and no one played more than 14. Meanwhile, the Owls had only 7 guys go 5 minutes or more and 4 guys played at least 15 minutes. As Green found out last season, that is hard on the legs, and Kennesaw State would experience a similar lesson tonight.

Second Half:

Green, Jr. picked up where he left off, making another corner three to open the second half, this time off a nice feed from transfer Jamir Watkins.

Corhen and Warley each scored two more points and FSU’s lead was up to 22 just few minutes into the second. A few minutes later, a flurry of action by Nickelberry, Jackson, Fletcher, and Bol Bowen pushed the Seminoles’ lead out to 35, 73-38. Much of this action was generated by deflections and steals, with FSU showing signs of being able to execute defense leading to offense far more consistently this year than the last two.

At this point the only thing left to decide was the final score. Substitutions happened liberally, with 16 FSU players seeing the court, and no player logging more than Green, Jr.’s 26 minutes. As you can imagine, there were stretches of sloppy ball on both sides, allowing the Owls to not be completely run out of the gym. However, the lack of minutes played by FSU’s starters more than makes up for it.

Watkins, who was the star of the exhibitions, never got on track with his shooting in this one, but still demonstrated why he is a winner by contributing all over the court. The VCU transfer finished with 7 rebounds and 6 assists, leading FSU in both categories.

Corhen and Fletcher joined Green, Jr. in double figures, finishing with 10 and 11 respectively, while four other Seminoles finished with 9 points.

On defense, FSU forced a turnover on 21.5% of possessions, registered 9 blocks, and held the Owls to just 0.85 points per possession.

Take away:

It’s just one game, but FSU looked like it enjoyed being on the court with each other for the first time since Malik Osborne was lacing ‘em up. Whereas last year the team often looked passive on offense and disinterested on defense, the guys moved with a sense of purpose on both ends and demonstrated more “activity” on defense than any game last season.

We will see how much Kennesaw State steps back from their squad last year, but even if they are not a top 250 team, FSU did what you’re supposed to when playing a bad team. They dominated.