In a memorable performance, Florida State basketball won in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the seventh Sweet 16 in program history.
Behind strong defense and timely three-pointers, No. 4 seed FSU decisively defeated No. 5 seed Colorado 71-53 in Indianapolis Monday night. Junior guard Anthony Polite had a stellar performance with a career-high 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals.
After the win, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton (who impressively advanced to his fourth Sweet 16 with FSU) joined the media for post-game comments. Here is a full transcript, with special thanks and credit to the NCAA and FastScripts by ASAP Sports.
LEONARD HAMILTON: I thought we had a tremendous team effort on the offensive end from an execution standpoint in our game plan, and on the defensive end with the leadership that M.J. Walker gave us tonight and talking and communicating with the players, I thought it really made a huge difference in the game.
This is a really, really good team, University of Colorado, and they challenged all our defensive principles, and obviously McKinley is as good as anyone we played against in a number of years. He’s explosive and smart and he’s heavy. It took a tremendous effort to hold him down somewhat.
But I was very proud of our players. I thought defensively we gave tremendous effort, and everybody who played on our team I thought made a contribution in some way that gave us a chance to get a very, very important victory.
Q. You guys are the stingiest team in the NCAA Tournament so far, only a two-game sample size, but can you talk about what you were able to do defensively, particularly after Colorado had those back-to-back threes, cut the lead to one point and you put them on lockdown for the rest of the game?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We’ve had games where we’ve executed very well offensively and we’ve been a little up and down and inconsistent, but tonight I thought our players were locked in with the defensive game plan. Obviously Colorado is a tremendously high-percentage free-throw shooting team. They play good enough defense to put them on the line a number of times. And they have had several games this year, I think over ten games, where they have shot at least ten — made ten threes in the game.
So that’s a tremendous challenge when you have to guard people on the perimeter to take away their three-point shooting, and then you have to make sure that you get the gaps because they have an outstanding point guard who is probably responsible for 50, 60 percent of their offense.
So we had to be locked on, contest shots, and that took a tremendous effort and a high level of concentration by our team. And that’s why I was so proud, the fact they continued to keep executing what we had in our game plan, even though when they cut the lead right down to one point.
Q. You’ve done that before I think where you tried to put a guy on a lead guard, constantly run guys at him. Had anybody else done that to Colorado this year? Was there any hesitancy about running that kind of defense?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Got to be versatile enough that we can make adjustments in relation to who we are playing. Every game, basically we have a defensive system that we will just option out of, depending on who we are playing and what their system dictates us to do.
Tonight we just knew that he was the head of the snake. He is such an outstanding player. He’s kind of like a card dealer; everything runs through him. We just wanted to give him as much attention as possible, and it took a tremendous effort for our players to do that.
Q. Anthony is a guy who is an unsung hero on the team, kind of does little things and may not often get the attention he got tonight. How important is he to what you do, and how nice was it for him to have a moment like this on this stage?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I’m so proud of Anthony because he had the shoulder injury there about middle ways in the season, along with M.J. and Malik and Balsa as well as Scottie. We’ve been limping around a little bit, and it’s thrown us off our shooting schemes and not being able to get shots up and trying to get treatment.
I’m hoping that with a little time off here and there, it looked like we’re getting back to shooting the ball where we were earlier in the season. Our defense, we kind of got healed up from some of the ankle turns and little strains that we had.
So I’m hopeful that we can continue to keep getting better, because we’re sure going to need it as we move through the rest of the March Madness.
Q. Regarding Anthony, can you talk about his development over the years and the fact that not only does he go out there and score 22 points, but he put forth an unbelievable effort on the defensive end?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Anthony is one of the better on-the-ball defenders that we’ve ever coached at Florida State. He is sound fundamentally. Has a high basketball IQ. He’s a Seminole. He plays within himself. You barely ever see him forcing a shot. He rebounds, gets deflections and steals.
He’s really grown into it from his freshman year. He had a rash of knee injuries as a freshman, and he had to be redshirted. So now you just see him coming to his own and making a major contribution. I’m just so proud of him.
Q. You guys have coined the phrase new bloods. You were first in the ACC last year, and now you’ve made it to the Sweet 16 three seasons in a row. Do you think you’re finally getting the respect that you deserve?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We’re in a basketball conference with some of the most rich tradition of successful traditional basketball programs in the history of college basketball. I’m not sure we’re ever going to make up for the 75 or 80 years of the success some of the programs in our league has enjoyed.
So we’re trying to find a way to carve our own little niche out, and I’m not really sure how long it’s going to take us to be considered, or if we ever will be considered in the blue blood status. We kind of coined our own phrase: We’re new bloods. We’re new on the block. We didn’t get invited to the blue blood party, so we coined our own phrase of new bloods, of guys trying to earn the respect.
It’s not something we are overly concerned about, but we’re proud of the fact we are making progress with our program. And hopefully in the next 80 years, somebody might put us in the blue blood category, and we continue to keep having some success.
I doubt if I’ll still be around then, but hopefully they will look back and say that we contributed to the improvement and establishment of our program.
Q. How do you prepare for a team when you don’t know the health status? Specifically, Isaiah Livers is still listed for Michigan as out indefinitely. As a coach, I assume you have to prepare both by scouting tape of the team with him and without him?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We are not going to do anything different than we would do if he is playing or not. We have a defensive system. It won’t be Florida State against Livers. It will be Florida State’s defensive system versus Michigan’s offensive system and Michigan’s defensive system versus Florida State’s offensive system.
I mean, they have shown that they are capable of winning games with or without any one particular player on their team. So obviously they are a very good basketball team and they are solid. And I’m sure that, like most teams in America, we all have been without players during the course of the year.
I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Juwan. He’s done a good job. He’s a personal friend of mine, and I’m looking forward to competing. And they are an outstanding team. Just like in Colorado, the intensity we played with, the mindset, the focus we played with tonight was a direct result of the respect we have for the outstanding job that Colorado has shown that they are capable of doing this year.
And now when you look at Michigan, there’s more of the same. They have done a tremendous job. They are very well-coached. They are loaded with talent. They execute very well. They play with a lot of pride, representing — I guess it’s the maize and blue. And I know Juwan is going to have his kids ready.
Our kids our excited. We lost to I believe Michigan in the Elite 8 a few years ago. So I’m sure that they will be ready. And I know in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to be at our best.
Q. Nate Jack didn’t score, had a couple shots rim out. Sardaar had the two dunks, but what they gave you on defense during the stretch in the second half, and Nate especially isn’t a guy that’s known for his defense, but he seemed to really play well on that side of the ball. And RayQuan Evans, too, to help you out in the second half, guys that didn’t really fill up the box score at all?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, like I said to you earlier, what I’m most proud of, that everybody winning the game contributed to the success of this game. Without them, even if they didn’t score, they were locked into the defensive plan. Defensively, I thought they did an excellent job. And Nate’s shots did everything except go in the hole. They rimmed around. I thought they were all going to be baskets.
Sardaar is one of our better shooters. I think he was a little anxious there. He missed a wide-open shot, which he normally doesn’t. But they gave us tremendous energy, and energy is what we needed tonight.
Q. I think you’ve now made more Sweet 16s than the rest of the coaches in FSU basketball history combined. Does accomplishing that and what you’ve accomplished of late mean anything to you?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We start looking at what we accomplish at the end of the season, now is not the time to take any bows. You’re right. This is not the time. This is kind of where we are.
If we are satisfied with just where we are now, then I guess we can pack our bags and go home. These guys are pretty focused, and one of the indications is that nobody was jumping up and down and high-fiving or getting overly excited in the locker room. Everyone was sitting there calm, focused, like we had been here before, and that’s the signs of a team maturing and with a purpose.
Q. Was there anything said in a time-out, or were guys just valuing the ball and playing possessions the right way?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I’m not sure we’ll say anything today about turnovers that we didn’t say back in September or August or October, November, December. Sometimes you lose your focus. But we did talk about that in the early time-outs; that we had turned the ball over six times I think in the first few minutes of the game.
And I thought from that point on, I thought that we locked down and concentrated much better and took care of the ball. I thought it really made a big difference in us not giving away extra points.
Q. Just curious, you saw, obviously everybody saw, what happened with VCU earlier in the tournament. Can you talk about just the anxiety that either as a coach and players you go through in such an unusual circumstance where you are just hoping somebody doesn’t contract COVID?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, I am so proud of our players because we had some incidents back when we first came back when guys came back from home, but we have not had one issue since we started practice that would cause us to miss games.
Our players, they got in their own little unique bubble and stayed in it for the entire season. These guys have been disciplined on and off the floor and made a tremendous sacrifice on their social life. They have conducted themselves as well as any group in America, and we can be very proud of how they represented Florida State and the Tallahassee community by being disciplined enough to make the sacrifices for the good of the team and for our university.
Q. Could you talk about the junkyard dog mentality that you talk about and how important that is for your team’s success?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, we a few years ago, we coined the phrase, we wanted to give our defensive system an identity, and we called it a junkyard dog defense. We even have a mascot of a junkyard dog. May have to give you a t-shirt that you can wear it around.
Defensive philosophy has been the same for many, many years. We just wanted to give our guys something to be a little proud of and a phrase that would give them something to hang our head on and something to relate our system with.
And these guys are very proud of the junkyard dog. And our junkyard dog’s name is Stopper, by the way. I have to introduce you to him. He’s the mascot. We’re going to have some t-shirts, and we’re going to give them to our local media so you can walk around with the junkyard dog philosophy.
Q. You talked about it before, but how are you keeping your players mentally ready from game to game in the bubble environment? How tough is it on you and your players and your staff to be in this tightly controlled environment? Are you doing anything to pass the time?
LEONARD HAMILTON: When we had the cancellation last March, we had a very frank and open discussion about how we would deal with these circumstances. And our conversations was that this was a necessary cancellation to keep everybody safe. The sacrifices we had to make from not enjoying the playing and the moment of competing would be pale in comparison if someone was to contract this dreaded disease and something unfortunate happened to them as a result of us playing, whether or not it was the stands, people working the games, what have you. I doubt very seriously if the virus is going to sit in the empty seats, so the right decision was made.
But I also told them three things would happen: Some teams would stay the same, some would get worse, and some would be mature enough to take — to understand that we have to work hard enough and be focused enough and be mature enough to get better.
And we’ve challenged our players not to have pity parties; that this was a sacrifice we all had to make, and they had to be mature about it.
For the most part, we haven’t had a whole lot of issues. But I must say to you, today, after the game, Raiquan Gray made the comment: Can we just please see the sunlight. Can we please find a way to breathe some fresh air.
I do think that they will be looking forward to maybe — I think the NCAA has provided us access to maybe one of the local football or baseball stadiums or one of the parks here somewhere that’s within the bubble confinement that maybe our guys can get out and walk around a little bit tomorrow and have breath of fresh air. I think that would help keep us focused.
But our guys have been very focused. We have enjoyed the moment. We’ve had a lot of Zooms. And we have a culture where we believe that sometimes making sacrifices is necessary.
What I’ve told them is that if this is the most challenging thing they have to deal within their life, they are going to be very fortunate, and they are going to have a great life.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports