TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Over the course of its modest, yet season-best, three-game winning streak the Florida State men’s basketball team has discovered different ways to produce positive results.
Since its 20-point loss at Notre Dame, the Seminoles have dispatched three in-state schools in decidedly different ways.
FSU was ruthlessly efficient offensively in a 93-77 win over UNF behind a season-high 25 assists on 34 made field goals. Against USF at the Orange Bowl Classic, the Noles matched a school record with 15 blocked shots to repel the Bulls, 75-62. In its last outing at home against Stetson, FSU overcame a rebounding deficit and 16 turnovers to prevail, 63-59.
In short, the only common denominator in the three wins was the Seminoles’ ability to find a way to win. That is something the team has been forced to do since leading scorer Aaron Thomas was ruled ineligible on the eve of the Notre Dame game, and subsequently left the program.
The Noles (7-5) will try and continue their recent trend Tuesday night at home against their toughest in-state foe to date when the Florida Gators (7-4) visit the Donald L. Tucker Center (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Without Thomas, Florida State can’t count on a proven scorer who could provide big bail-out baskets with the shot clock running down. Success will hinge largely on the team’s ability to play well collectively, with all 10 players in coach Leonard Hamilton’s current rotation providing contributions.
“They have come to the conclusion that every player is important and if we’re going to be successful, it’s not about any one particular guy being our leading scorer,” Hamilton said of his squad. “…Everybody has got to elevate their output. Everybody has got to step up a little bit and contribute.
“That has been a little slow sinking in. Now, every block-out is important; every charge we’re going to take. You can’t come off the bench and make mental mistakes…Everybody has got to come into the game and be efficient. I think everybody has bought into that, which I believe is bringing them closer together.”
Cohesiveness and balanced contributions will be essential against the rival Gators, who have won the last five meetings between the programs and lead the all-time series 43-22.
“As competitors you’re always looking for new challenges,” said FSU junior Montay Brandon, who has emerged as the team’s scoring leader while inheriting the leadership role as well. “That’s just another challenge that everybody is trying to embrace. As a team we know that everybody has to step up and we’ve got to win as a committee, so everybody is important each and every night.”
There are tangible signs that the Seminoles have fully embraced the all-for-one mentality.
Early in the season, FSU’s trio of seven-footers – Kiel Turpin, Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky – were providing limited impact defending the rim, managing just 28 blocked shots through the first eight games. The Noles have nearly matched that total, rejecting 25 and altering countless others, over the past three games.
“We take pride in our defense and early on in the season we kind of went away from that for some reason,” said Turpin. “As the season has gone on we’ve realized we’ve got to start protecting the rim better and defending the rim; making sure the guards driving in know our presence is there and we will affect their shots.”
Not surprisingly, opponents are shooting only 38 percent from the floor during the current three-game win streak, well below the season average of nearly 42 percent.
At the offensive end, the Seminoles have found some semblance of scoring balance, with six different players contributing at least one double-figure scoring contest over the past three games.
“We know we have a lot of different people on our team that can contribute and we’re not really worried about (who), because anyone can do something spectacular on any given night,” added junior guard Devon Bookert.
“We all know we have to be able to contribute in order for us to be successful. We know that to be successful all of our parts have to be working together.”
The combination of opportunity and interdependence appears to be fostering a selfless basketball team that shares the ball and the credit, freely.
“I think people relish that challenge, knowing they are needed to contribute,” Brandon said. “It holds everybody accountable.”
“What’s going to make this team successful in the long run is knowing that anyone can step up to the plate and do what we need to do to win. That makes us more confident as the games go by.”
Hamilton, like most coaches, wants his team to focus on being the best it can be without consideration of the opposition. That concept, while at times difficult to grasp, is something the Seminoles are beginning to collectively get their arms around.
“We’ve seen the wrong way to do it and we were doing it the wrong,” Bookert said. “Now that we’re doing it – for the most part – the right way, we see the results have been different.”
Hamilton said he and his staff aren’t asking the team to do things physically they aren’t capable of doing. The goal each and every practice and game is to stay focused on the game plan, value the basketball and execute in an effort to realize their maximum potential.
“They are getting that picture that we don’t have the luxury of taking possessions off and every night, everybody has got to come to play,” Hamilton said.
“We just have to make sure we come out with the same energy, motivation and heart each game and we’ll be fine,” Turpin said. “Every game it varies, but we’ve got to make sure we keep it as consistent as possible.”