Brandon Allen knows head coach Leonard Hamilton’s tell.
“Sometimes Coach Ham will be looking for people to make eye contact to see who is going in,” Allen said. “He just gave me the briefest look and I knew like I’m about to go in the game, so I just stood up and he threw me in.”
When Allen checked in to Florida State’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4-seed Gonzaga with 2:08 remaining in the first half, it was a testament to the Seminoles’ depth and also their foul trouble.
The Seminoles had to go a full 11 deep after all four of their primary big men got into foul trouble and when needed, Allen, the senior walk-on forward (who averaged 4.1 minutes per game) stepped up and made big plays in Florida State’s 75-60 win Thursday evening at Staples Center.
Allen played a key part in an 8-0 run at the end of the first half. On his first offensive possession, he flew across the lane to grab an offensive rebound and kicked it out for an M.J. Walker three-pointer. After the Seminoles hit another three-pointer, they found the ball back in their hands for the final possession of the half. Trent Forrest attacked the top of Gonzaga’s defense and leaped in the air from the left corner of the free throw line.
“I attacked the gap and I knew on the backside it was [Allen] and Terance on the baseline,” Forrest said. “So once I moved [the backline defender] over like I was going to pass to Terance, I knew BA would be wide open.”
“I’m kind of on the bottom of the scouting report, so I felt like I was open the whole possession,” Allen said with a smile. “There was no one guarding me. I just emptied out to the baseline and I knew Trent saw me. At that point, I got ready to shoot or make a play. When you know you’re about to get a shot, it makes making a shot that much easier.”
Forrest rifled a pass across the paint to Allen on the right baseline. Allen knew the clock was winding down, but didn’t know how close the impending horn was, so as soon as he caught the ball, he began to rise floating a short jumper over a Gonzaga defender. The shot rattled through the rim as the buzzer sounded, capping off Florida State’s latest run and giving it the momentum heading into the break.
Allen flexed as he bounded toward half court where Phil Cofer was waiting with a flying shoulder bump.
“That definitely sparked us up, man,” Cofer said. “He’s definitely a guy that comes in and gives it all he’s got every time.”
“Being a part of this is special for him and to see him go in there and contribute like that, even in one minute of playing time doesn’t surprise us, but it really makes us put a smile on our face,” Florida State associated head coach Stan Jones said of Allen, who is a Florida State basketball legacy that came to Tallahassee after a three-year professional baseball career. “He’s a kid that’s been Florida State Seminole through and through since before he got here and then the five years he’s been with us.”
When Gonzaga had to go to their bench late in the half to keep starting forwards Rui Hachimura and Jonathan Williams from catching a third foul before the break, its reserves couldn’t produce a positive impact. That’s what is expected out of Allen and everyone on the Florida State bench, though. Players bring energy and effort at 100 miles per hour because of how deep the Seminoles’ rotation is and how frequently Hamilton subs players in and out.
“That’s kind of who we are,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been consistent with how we utilized the full complement of all our players. They’ve got a very unselfish spirit. They’ve got a team unity, togetherness that I think is contagious.”
Most coaches say their team is a close group; Florida State actually embodies a blood-is-thicker family dynamic. There is bickering and infighting on occasion like any set of brothers, but the players hold each other accountable. They are encouraged to air their grievances, find a solution and move on.
The “18 Strong” motto they wear across the chest of their warmups is a creed more than a saying. Hamilton preaches that Florida State’s “strength is the quality of their depth” and the players have trust in all 18 team members, including the walk-ons. That’s why it has not been unusual to see a different guy step up to make a big impact every game.
Florida State’s depth also allows them to grind opponents down. Other teams in the NCAA tournament have wilted down the stretch on occasion, possibly even from the accumulation of minutes stars have played throughout the year. Florida State doesn’t have a single player with 1000 total minutes or a 30-minute per game average. (Their NCAA opponents have all had multiple players with 1000 minutes this season.)
In the postseason, the Seminoles have seemed to get even stronger as the game progresses. The final 10 minutes have been their time to shine. They have dominated opponents, outscoring them by a combined 35 points in three tournament games. Florida State went on a 15-0 run against Missouri to take complete control, outscored Xavier by 17 in the last 10:10 to rally from a double-digit deficit and pulled away from Gonzaga turning a close game into a 15-point victory.
“It just goes to show the type of team that we have,” Forrest said. “Our depth is amazing and we look forward to using it. If you play a short rotation you’re going to probably struggle playing against us because we play so many guys and play so many people that can pressure the ball and just are locked into our defense.”
“We just try to wear on people,” Allen said. “We saw tonight, we had a lot of foul trouble and guys stepped up. Everybody is ready to make plays.”
Including Allen, the Seminoles’ 11th man, who caught Hamilton and everyone else’s eye on Thursday.
The Seminoles will play No. 3-seed Michigan at Staples Center Saturday at 8:55 p.m. EDT with a berth to the Final Four on the line.