Nov. 8, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There was no shortage of bright spots as a healthy and hungry Florida State men’s basketball team opened its 12th season under coach Leonard Hamilton with a 91-67 victory over Jacksonville Friday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
A strong second half defensive effort and no shortage of offensive contributors proved to be a winning combination as the Seminoles used a 17-5 run in the second half to build a 67-50 lead that the Dolphins never threatened.
“I’m not sure we played particularly well tonight but we scored 91 points and we won,” Hamilton said after the Seminoles delivered him an 11th opening night win in 12 tries before a crowd of 5,761. It was FSU’s 18th consecutive win over the Dolphins – a streak that dates to 1988.
Senior Okaro White led five Seminole double-figure scorers with 18 points and 11 rebounds and FSU limited the Dolphins to 30 points on 37-percent shooting in the second half. FSU’s sophomore starting backcourt of Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon combined for 31 points on 10 of 19 shooting. Brandon had a career-high 15 points and Bookert knocked down 3 of 5 3-point attempts, grabbed nine rebounds and came away with a career-high five steals.
Slowed by a knee injury last season, Bookert’s first half play was pivotal in getting the Seminoles off to a quick start.
“I just feel like it’s a blessing that I get to play and that it healed up the right way,” said Bookert, who scored 13 points in the first half, including the go-ahead jumper for a 29-28 lead with 5:12 remaining, which the `Noles never relinquished. “It feels great to play and be with all my teammates.”
Entering his 26th season as a Division I head coach, Hamilton said he had seen marked individual improvement from each of his players. That clearly showed.
Senior Robert Gilchrist drilled a pair of late 3-pointers in his first start and finished with a career-high 10 points after earning his first career start. Aaron Thomas contributed 10 points and Ian Miller added eight – all in the second half – after sitting out both exhibition games.
“I definitely see that, and I definitely saw how hard they worked in the summer time,” Bookert said of his teammates. “I knew the improvement would come because of how hard everyone had worked. We weren’t really nervous, we were really just anxious to get it started.”
White got off to a slow start offensively, but sparked a 16-8 surge with five points to close out the first half as the Seminoles built a comfortable 43-36 lead.
Brandon looked quite comfortable returning to his natural off-guard spot, driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line. He scored 11 first half points, including 10 in the midst of a 12-2 run by the `Noles after Bookert’s go-ahead jumper.
“On the wing I can do a lot of things, not only on offense, but defense too,” Brandon said. “Since I’ve been playing on the wing most of my life I feel a lot more comfortable. I wanted to get to the free throw line because I know once I start making free throws everything else starts coming together.”
The Seminoles knocked down 19 of 28 free throw attempts on a night which saw both teams adjusting to more closely scrutinized contact away from the basket by the officials, a new emphasis this season.
After allowing the Dolphins to shoot nearly 45 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, FSU clamped down and limited the visitors to 30 points and 37-percent shooting after intermission.
The Seminoles held a commanding 41-28 rebounding advantage and forced 25 Jacksonville turnovers, which helped offset 20 of their own. Jarvis Haywood led the Dolphins with 15 points, but only four in the second half, when FSU took control.
“I was very excited to see how we looked as a team against good competition,” said White. “We’re pumped for the next game. We don’t want to overlook anybody on our schedule … We’re not trying to take anything for granted and (want to) work as hard each day in practice to get as prepared for each game, like our football team is doing. They’re getting prepared for each game and going out and showing how much better they are for everybody.”
The Seminoles will return to action Wednesday, when they travel to Orlando to face UCF.