Jan. 11, 2014
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An early-season opportunity to build momentum greets the Florida State men’s basketball team Sunday night when Maryland makes its final Atlantic Coast Conference visit to the Donald L. Tucker Center for a nationally-televised ESPNU contest.
Fresh off a rare, yet defensively dominant win at Clemson, the Seminoles (10-4, 1-1 ACC) can climb above .500 in league play and continue their ascent in the conference standings with a win over the Terrapins (10-6, 2-1).
There are no secrets to the Seminoles’ success to this point. Leonard Hamilton’s team has reestablished itself as one of the finest defensively in the nation. FSU is ranked fifth nationally in field goal percentage defense (.365) and 10th in blocked shots (6.6 pg). The `Noles are not only forcing 7.8 steals per game, but are using their length and athleticism to disrupt opponents on the offensive end.
The Seminoles were at their defense best in Wednesday’s 56-41 win at Clemson, limiting to the Tigers to just 30-percent shooting from the floor while forcing 18 turnovers, which they converted into 25 points. The 41 points allowed were also the fewest scored by an ACC opponent since FSU joined the league for the 1991-92 season.
“It was a big confidence-boost but we have to keep working,” said senior guard Ian Miller, who won at Clemson for just the second time in his career. “We have to put it together and we all have our hearts and minds in the right place. We see what works and what causes us to win and causes us to struggle.”
The next step in the growth process for the `Noles is playing at the same, consistent level each time they take the floor.
“That’s a real big challenge,” said sophomore guard Aaron Thomas. “We have spurts where we’re real good and spurts where we’re not good. If we stay consistent, we give ourselves a chance.”
Florida State failed to do that in the ACC home-opening loss to Virginia, but found its groove at Clemson. To use an old football adage: Defense travels.
So while there will be nights when the shots don’t drop as frequently, maintaining the same defensive effort is tantamount to winning games. Not only does it frustrate the opposition, FSU’s defensive pressure directly leads to success at the offensive end of the floor, where the `Noles have no shortage of finishers.
Miller (13.5 ppg) and Thomas (12.4) lead the team in scoring while coming off the bench. Okaro White (12.2), Montay Brandon (9.0) and Devon Booker (7.8) are the top scorers among the starters. All five appear most at ease offensively when the `Noles are pushing the ball up the floor.
“We don’t have any egos,” Thomas said. “Everybody is willing to play for each other.”
“Last year we didn’t have fun,” Thomas added. “This year we’re playing loose and having a lot more fun doing it. … We have to keep doing what we’re doing. If it’s working, why change?”