TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Friday was a big night – literally and figuratively – as the Florida State men’s basketball team improved to 3-0 for the first time three seasons with a 100-86 victory over Winthrop.
In a rare display of statistical dominance, seven-footers Michael Ojo and Christ Koumadje combined for 27 points and 13 rebounds as the Seminole wore down and eventually grounded a Winthrop team that has churned out 62 wins and played for three consecutive Big South Conference titles.
To the delight of the home crowd, the Noles also hit the century mark for the first time since knocking off Nicholls State 109-62 in last season’s opener.
“Ojo came in and had a double-double in 13 minutes and I thought Christ came in and gave us good solid play,” Hamilton said. “He’s finding his creases, setting his screens and rolling [to the basket] exactly like we’ve been trying to get him to do. Tonight was not Jarquez’s night, but the fact that all three of them had foul trouble and we were able to keep them fresh and finish the game is another example of us having quality depth.”
Ojo, a fifth-year senior averaging 1.9 points and 2.5 rebounds, was a force from the start. The 7-foot-1, 300-pound Nigerian eclipsed his career-high with 11 first half points and finished with 13 and a career-best 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
His 10th rebound of the night triggered an FSU fastbreak, which Terance Mann finished off with a dunk for a 76-64 lead with 7:45 to play. It came during a stretch when the Noles opened up a 16-point lead by holding the Eagles (2-1) without a field goal for nearly four minutes.
“I call them like Noah’s Ark,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said of Hamilton’s Seminoles. “They have two of everything all the time, but this is the first time they didn’t just have two of everything. It seems like they had four 7-footers and they just keep coming and keep coming. Those kids are good. Not only are they humongous, they’ve got good hands and they can all finish around the rim….
“They wear you down because they’re so big and strong and physical.”
Smith and Cofer, who did not play in the second half after tweaking the leg he injured early last season, combined for four points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.
Professing his desire to man the center position by committee this season, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton could not have been happier with the production he received from Ojo and Koumadje, especially with fellow bigs Jarquez Smith and Phil Cofer somewhat limited.
Ojo didn’t just get it done in the flow of the game. A career 41-percent free throw shooter, he drained 9-of-12 from the line, more than doubling his previous career high for made attempts.
“This year I have to make free throws and at least leave something behind that people will [remember] me from,” Ojo said. “‘He missed free throws for four years but his last year he actually made free throws.’”
So far, so good. He’s 12-of-16 from the stripe on the year.
No one seemed happier for Ojo than Koumadje, the Seminoles’ 7-foot-4 sophomore and practice partner, who compiled a personal highlight reel of his own with a wide array of alley-oop dunks on the way to a career-high 14-point performance.
“I feel very happy for him,” Koumadje said of Ojo. “He’s been working for this moment; waiting on this moment…To see him get reward like that with 10 rebounds and a double-double, I was really happy.”
In a program that has often revolved offensive around its perimeter players, the breakout night for the bigs was especially satisfying.
“It is rewarding to us as individuals because we put in so much effort and work into it,” Ojo said. “And for the coaches too, it just puts a smile on their face. For the win, which is the biggest thing of the night, it’s good just to put it all together for the win. I think it was big for our team.”
It took the Seminoles the better part of a half to get some breathing room against the Eagles. They carried a 53-47 lead into the locker room at the half, then gained some separation with a more spirited defensive effort in the second half as Winthrop shot just 35 percent from the floor after the break.
“They just keep coming at you and coming at you with waves of athleticism,” Kelsey said “Then I felt like our on-ball defense started to wane late in the game, they started attacking us…Late in the game we created the Florida State recruiting highlight tape for next year when they were just throwing alley-oops to everybody under the sun.”
Hamilton liked the defensive effort his club gave in the second half.
“We settled down in the second half and defended a lot better,” he said. “I thought we wore them down a little with the quality of our depth. They got some good looks in the second half but they did not make them, a lot because we played with a tremendous amount of energy.”
And beyond the post production, the Noles simply had too much firepower for the Eagles, who got a game-high 23 points from Xavier Cooks, which was not enough to counter FSU’s balance.
Dwayne Bacon led the Noles with 15 points and Jonathan Isaac added 14. Braian Angolas-Rodas contributed 11 off the bench.
After posting a second consecutive win against a perennial mid-major power, the Noles will have an opportunity to move to 4-0 when Detroit visits the Donald L. Tucker Center on Sunday at 5 p.m.