TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – There were some uneasy moments early in the second half of Monday night’s Florida State tilt with Troy.
The Trojans opened the second half with a 12-3 run, pulling within 42-40 on BJ Miller’s 3-pointer less than three minutes gone against the newly-anointed 11th-ranked Seminoles.
Senior guard PJ Savoy’s 3-pointer from the right win triggered an 8-0 run by the Seminoles (7-1), who restored order and cruised to an 83-67 victory.
“It was kind of a sigh of relief,” Savoy said of the timely triple. “Like, ‘Come on. Let’s go. It’s time to start working.’ Just knowing we had to flip the switch and turn it on now.”
Coach Leonard Hamilton said his Seminoles are learning on the fly how to play with the responsibility of expectations that come with such lofty rankings.
“We have to learn to adjust to being a highly ranked team and getting everybody’s best effort,” Hamilton said. “That’s a new place for this team. We’re trying to get to a place where we never have been, so sometimes when you’re trying to get there and you’ve never been there before, is challenging…That’s part of the journey.”
In a Monday night non-conference game against an opponent whom you last played in 1977 – sandwiched between dates with Purdue and UConn – the Noles weren’t operating at maximum efficiency.
“We’re not so much the hunters anymore, we’re the hunted,” said sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele. “Tonight I felt like some of us were playing Troy, and what I mean by saying that is we weren’t playing Florida State. We weren’t challenging ourselves. Even though Troy is in our way, we still have to focus on ourselves. We kind of got away from that, which is why they kind of got back into the game.
“Even though we’re 11th-ranked, focus on who we are and execute, and we’ll be fine.”
Savoy’s 3-pointer started the Noles down the right path. M.J. Walker followed with a traditional three-point play and David Nichols’ basket off a turnover put FSU in charge, 50-40. Troy (3-5) would only get as close as six the rest of the way.
“They just keep coming at you in waves,” said Troy coach Phil Cunningham. “We were trying to break them there. We cut it down to two with 17 minutes to go. They bent a little bit, but they didn’t break.”
FSU forced 22 Trojan turnovers and turned those into 27 points, building a lead of 21 points in the encore to Wednesday’s dramatic 73-72 win over Purdue.
“We couldn’t get the ball to our two best scorers,” Cunningham added. “We couldn’t get into our offense. Give them credit. They took us out of our offense. You see that with those turnovers.”
Savoy had 11 points of his team-high 16 points in the second half. Kabengele added six points, six rebounds and three blocked shots after intermission in a 10-point, seven-rebound effort.
“Going into the game I only had one block this whole season,” Kabengele said. “The coaching staff challenged me. David [Nichols] had more blocks. I took that very personal. By me blocking a shot, it starts the break and gets everybody involved…I felt very good because everybody fed off it.”
Despite the somewhat uneven effort, the Noles had plenty contributors. M.J. Walker finished with 14 and Trent Forrest added 13, while Nichols added nine as FSU’s reserves produced a whopping 31 points.
“We had some moments in the second half, some spurts, where I thought we had stops, deflections, steals; got out in transition and created some offense with our defense,” Hamilton said.
That’s the kind of energy the Noles know they need to learn to bring every night.
“That’s one of our challenges,” Savoy added. “Sometimes it’s hard to get up for games that aren’t big-name, but coach harps on us about bringing the energy every day no matter who we’re playing.”
Though the Noles were never seriously threatened after running off to a 7-0 lead, the first half was less than an aesthetically pleasing sight. FSU lead 37-28 at the break despite 11 turnovers and 4-of-15 shooting from beyond the 3-point line.
Troy missed its first five shots and turned the ball over three times from the outset and spent the rest of the night playing a game of catch-up, to no avail.
Florida State returns to action Saturday at home against Connecticut (6:30 p.m.). The Huskies are 6-2 entering their Wednesday night game against Lafayette College.