TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State basketball fans who stayed up late on Thursday night were rewarded with a little bit of history.
The Seminoles routed Nicholls State, 118-63, after a late-night tip-off at the Donald L. Tucker Center. In the process, they reached the highest single-game point total of coach Leonard Hamilton’s 15-year tenure and the most since scoring 133 against Central Florida in 1988.
Florida State is 9-1 for the first time since 2008-09 and hosts No. 21 Florida on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“Tonight was one of those games that we knew going into it that we would have this team outmanned,” said Hamilton, who moved into ninth place on the ACC’s all-time conference wins list with 265.
“We challenged them to see whether or not they could go out and play a game and not anybody take a possession off. We’re trying to develop that junkyard dog mentality that we’re taking every possession seriously.”
If the Seminoles didn’t do that on Thursday night, it was awfully hard to tell.
FSU had seven players score in double-figures but, in a testament to the Seminoles’ depth (and to Hamilton’s commitment to emptying his bench), no one scored more than P.J. Savoy’s 18.
Savoy, a sophomore junior-college transfer from Las Vegas, continued a torrid pace that started in Monday’s win over Southern Mississippi.
He made 6 of 14 3-point attempts in just 23 minutes on Thursday and has made 13 3-pointers in his last two games.
After missing FSU’s first six games with an injury, Savoy is now FSU’s third-leading average scorer with 12.8 points per game.
“Boy,” junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said before stopping to chuckle and shake his head. “We were telling him, he’d better know that when he comes in the game, he’s on the (opponent’s) scouting report now. He’s doing a great job for us.”
And he was far from the only one.
The Seminoles shot a season-high 62.5 percent from the field, made 53.1 percent of their 3-point attempts and were even 11 of 12 from the free-throw line.
Rathan-Mayes and sophomore Dwayne Bacon each chipped in 16 points, while Rathan-Mayes briefly flirted with a triple-double by adding seven rebounds and seven assists.
Braian Angola-Rodas (14 points), Trent Forrest (13) Brandon Allen (11) and Michael Ojo (10) all reached double-digits as well.
Florida State scored a startling 52 fast-break points while racking up 32 assists.
“They’re the best team that I’ve ever coached against at attacking you on a miss to get to the paint,” Nicholls State coach Richie Riley said. “They’re so fast in transition. Bacon getting downhill, Rathan-Mayes getting downhill, it’s hard (to defend).”
A former Clemson assistant in his first year at Nicholls State, Riley has had a first-hand look at the Seminoles for the past few years.
And, from his perspective, it’s the Seminoles renewed commitment to defense that is making the difference for the so far this season.
“I’m really familiar with them,” Riley said. “They really guard you. I think Florida State this year is back to guarding like a lot of (Hamilton’s) traditional teams. They really defend you, and it made it tough for us.”
“Tough” may be an understatement. Florida State scored the game’s first 14 points and didn’t allow the Colonels to crack the scoreboard until a pair of free throws at the 13:52 mark of the first half.
Nicholls State didn’t score its first field goal until more than three minutes later. The Colonels finished with a 33.9 shooting percentage and made only four of their 23 3-point attempts.
And when Hamilton noticed a defensive lapse or two – as he did when Nicholls State went on a brief scoring run late in the first half – he didn’t hesitate to call timeout and settle things down.
“There’s no question that we’re getting the effort fundamentally,” Hamilton said. “We’re still making some mistakes, but that’s to be expected with the new players we have. I know they recognize when they make a mistake and they’re calling each other out. They’re communicating with each other.”
After four straight victories – the last three of which have come by an average of 41 points – the Seminoles are due for a much stiffer test on Sunday.
Florida is 7-2 on the season, with its only losses coming to No. 5 Duke and No. 8 Gonzaga. FSU is riding a two-game winning streak over the Gators, having won both games on last-second shots.
“We’re super excited for this game,” Rathan-Mayes said. “Our young guys don’t know what it’s like to be in that environment, but they’ll find out really quickly.”