Following a year in which the Seminoles failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, Florida State took to the court on Monday hoping to start anew. It was not the outcome they had in mind.
Stetson jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back. The margin grew as much as 18 in the first half and Florida State never could recover. In the end it was an 83-74 home loss that showed far more warts than beauty marks for the inexperienced Seminoles.
Perhaps this is just what it a team starting three guys in their second year at FSU and two guys in their first (including true freshman Tom House) looks like in their opening game? But while youth and injuries could excuse familiarity with the system, it does not excuse poor effort. And for long stretches of Monday night that’s exactly what we saw from the home squad, especially on he defensive glass.
Looking nothing like the “18-strong” culture that Hamilton and Stan Jones have cultivated during their tenure, Florida State only played 8 guys total. And even worse, who else can you turn to right now? Between injuries and ineligibility, Florida State was missing 5 scholarship players on opening night and several of them are out for extended time and/or the season.
Sure, the three point shooting can be fluky in this sport. Stetson made 14-35 to FSU’s 6-14, representing a 24 point difference from behind the arc. But I doubt Darin Green goes 2-7 every game. The more concerning issue is something that we called out after the exhibition game a week ago—the defensive rebounding is a massive concern. Simply put, guards are going to have to put a body on someone and crash the glass as a team this year. They can’t afford to leak out or stand around at watch, two things that happened far too much in the opening game loss.
So what does this all mean? College basketball is a long season. Plenty of teams have suffered terrible losses early in the season, only to right the ship in December and cruise in conference play. (Though this loss undoubtedly will be a sore spot on any NCAAT resume). But even in a world where some of these issues can be fixed, the margin for error just took a huge blow.
Player of the game: No one played outstanding but Jalen Warley came off the bench to score 8 points on 3-4 shooting, grab 5 boards (4 offensive), dish out 5 dimes, and committed nary a turnover. Simply put, the team was better with him on the court.
The opening minutes featured out-of-rhythm offense and huge struggles on the defensive glass for Florida State, two themes that would last most of the game. Compounding the issue, Seminoles’ defenders were giving way too much help on penetration and leaving corner threes wide open.
Offensively, there was just far too much dribbling. Dribbling without a purpose, dribbling into corners, dribbling out of control. None of this moves the defense from side to side, and none of it forces defenders to make tough decisions.
Defensively, about the only positive for the first 10 minutes was some decent on-ball pressure on the perimeter a few times. The overhelping and poor defensive rebounding rebounding resulted in a classic example of letting a kid get into a rhythm, start seeing the basket look bigger and bigger, and then by the time you try to adjust defense it’s too late and he’s dialed in.
Who was the opposing player this time? Luke Brown, an unheralded sophomore transfer from Ball State University. Brown, who was 14-46 from three all of last season, opened the game 5-6 from outside, with several of those makes coming after offensive rebounds.
All of this contributed to Stetson growing its 5-0 lead to 34-16 by the 7:13 mark.
Improved defensive intensity, and “ball and man” integrity allowed FSU to narrow the gap to 37-28 by the 3 min mark. Brown cashed another three-ball, his 6th of the half, but the Seminoles were still able to cut the lead to 44-37 at the half.
As is wont to happen as sample sizes grow larger, Stetson opened up the half shooting much cooler than they did for most of the first half. Unfortunately, the ‘Noles were unable to take advantage because of continued struggles on the defensive glass. So despite the Hatters starting the half 4-12 from the field and just 1-6 from deep, the lead grew to 55-46 at the 14:45 mark thanks to a 75% offensive rebounding rate in the first 5 minutes for the visitors.
The FSU deficit would expand to 13 points at 61-48 following a couple of Seminoles turnovers and a missed three by Darin Green. At that point, Coach Hamilton went small with Cam’Ron Fletcher playing the 4 and freshman Cameron Corhen at the 5. This allowed Florida State to chip away at the lead and the ‘Noles would go even smaller with a lineup of Caleb Mills, Green, Jalen Warley, Matthew Cleveland, and Fletcher.
By the 7:33 mark, FSU had whittled things down to 67-61. It looked like an easy chance to cut it further as Fletcher had what appeared to be a dunk opportunity. But some strong contact from behind caused him to lose control of the ball and Stetson dodged the bullet.
FSU cut it to just three points at 68-65 on the back of two strong finishes by Mills and Warley, but a dunk at the other end pushed it right back to 5. After some back-and-forth action where FSU just couldn’t quite get the stop it needed, the score was 75-69 with 2:39 left and a timeout on the floor.
Mills split a pair of free throws (FSU was just 14-27 on the evening), but FSU would never seriously threaten again.
Next game: The Florida State Seminoles travel to Orlando, Florida to play the UCF Knights on Friday at 7:00 ET. The game will be featured on ESPN+. The Knights are expected to be a substantially better team than Stetson, so FSU will need to get off to a much better start to the game if they want to avoid an 0-2 start.