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Offense helps Florida State move along late in the season

March 5, 2014 Columns No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Florida State was very concerned about Boston College for a lot of reasons. After pulling out a 74-70 win over the Eagles, they were pretty relieved.

“I hope that people understand that they’ve got everybody back next year, and I hope we only play them once, and I hope it’s at our place,” said head coach Leonard Hamilton with a smile. “We were just very fortunate to get a stop, hit a free throw, get a turnover right at the end that gave us a chance to pull it out.”

The game went back and forth often and was played within a nine-point window. While both teams had momentum swings, you never sensed that either team was poised to break the game open and put the other team away. It was also the kind of game that generally might not favor the Seminoles – one where offense ruled – most years. But this team is a bit different.

Hamilton’s teams have always known how to defend, and that’s certainly been true at Florida State. This year’s team certainly fits that as opponents are shooting 39 percent from the field on the season. However, they lead the ACC in field goal percentage, and part of how they won on Tuesday was at the offensive end. In a slow-paced game, the Seminoles shot 13-17 from the field in the second half, including both of their three-pointers. They shot 56.8 percent on the night, overcoming BC’s 52 percent showing.

“We have a couple of seniors that have started to give us good leadership,” said Hamilton. “The rest of our team is basically sophomores and one freshman, and they’re growing up and learning how to play within themselves.”

One of those sophomores who is growing up is Aaron Thomas, and he’s been a key since ACC play began. Thomas had 26 points on 9-14 shooting, including 3-5 from long range, on Tuesday night. Along with senior Okaro White (24 points on 9-12 shooting), who has steadily improved over his career, he carried them offensively on Tuesday. Thomas leads them in scoring in ACC play, and while his minutes aren’t up dramatically since he moved into the starting lineup eight games ago, his overall play is. In the last eight games, he is averaging 18.4 points in 36 minutes a game, and shooting 44 percent.

More than his own numbers, though, what Thomas has done is help the rest of the lineup. Hamilton said the Seminoles knew they couldn’t be dependent on just four guards playing heavy minutes, so they moved White out to play a few more minutes on the perimeter each game. They also wanted to get more productivity from the power forward spot. Moving Thomas into the starting lineup is actually part of a larger lineup shift that seems to be paying dividends now.

The Seminoles’ big offensive issue has been turnovers, as they give the ball away nearly 14 times per game on the season. Their shooting has made up for that, and lately the defense hasn’t been as good as Tuesday was the third time in seven games that an opponent shot better than 50 percent against them. Hamilton naturally wants them to play better defense, but the fact that they’re finding a way to win games where they don’t play well with what they normally do is a good development.

“We’ve executed very well on the offensive end in the last four or five games,” said Hamilton. “Early on in the year, we were kind of up and down and a little inconsistent, so we’re growing up.”

Florida State returns home to play Syracuse before the ACC Tournament. You can look at the Orange losing four of their last five in one of two ways: they are ripe for another loss that might seal up an NCAA bid for the Seminoles, or they will be that much more determined to go into the ACC Tournament with some momentum by virtue of a road win. In the end, though, this is about getting momentum leading into the ACC Tournament and then, hopefully, the NCAA for Florida State.

The Seminoles present a good case for an NCAA Tournament bid. Depending on your perspective, their worst loss is either home against Clemson (who they beat on the road) or at NC State, and neither is a terrible loss. They have wins over the likes of VCU, UMass and Pittsburgh, none of which came on their home court although only the last one was a true road game. Avoiding a bad loss the rest of the way is the biggest item.

Winning on Tuesday night won’t further help their NCAA Tournament resume. But by doing that, they avoided a bad loss, and in so doing, took care of business. Their concern made sense, and they managed to take care of it.

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