TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – C.J. Walker’s stat line on Saturday looked about the same as it has for much of the season: The freshman had seven points, two rebounds and a steal during No. 12 Florida State’s 93-78 victory over No. 21 Virginia Tech.
But stats don’t tell the story of Walker’s afternoon, or, for that matter, the strength of his game.
Despite playing only 13 minutes against the Hokies, Walker was seemingly everywhere – a one-man swarm who harassed, agitated and frustrated his opponents with his high-energy defending.
His effort was part of an outstanding afternoon from the Seminoles’ bench, which outscored Virginia Tech’s bench 35-6 on Saturday.
“He’s a pest to other teams,” senior forward Jarquez Smith said. “Our nickname for him is ‘Little Savage,’ because he plays so hard on defense. He gets in other teams’ heads. He frustrates them.”
At 6-1, 195 pounds, Walker is the shortest Seminole by three inches, so the “Little Savage” moniker comes honestly.
But he makes a big impact. Just ask the Hokies.
With Florida State holding a 10-point lead early in the second half, coach Leonard Hamilton made a full-scale line change, subbing out four starters for Walker, Smith, freshman Trent Forrest and JUCO transfer Braian Angola-Rodas.
And with Walker leading a stifling defensive effort, FSU’s reserves out-scored the Hokies 15-10 over the next seven minutes, a stretch in which Walker’s steal led to a foul and a pair of free-throws for the Seminoles.
“He’s a guy that can come in and take control over a game, not even by the offensive side of the ball,” sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon said. “(He can do it) by just being intense on defense and leading to everything. We need that all year.”
It’s been a winning formula so far.
This year’s Seminoles may be the most talented of Hamilton’s tenure, but they’re also by far the deepest.
Despite reaching the 90-point threshold for the seventh time this season, only one Seminole – sophomore Terance Mann – scored more than 20 on Saturday. And 10 players scored at least one field goal.
That, of course, includes Walker, as well as fellow reserves Smith, Angola-Rodas, P.J. Savoy and Christ Koumadje.
Against the injury-depleted Hokies, FSU’s depth made for a lopsided mismatch.
“We knew that they were going to wear down eventually,” Mann said.
Mann said Saturday that Walker’s role reminds him of his own from a year ago. Last season, it was Mann who was an under-the-radar freshman, and Mann who the Seminoles relied on to bring energy and attitude off the bench.
A year later, Mann is a starter who scored 22 points his last time out.
That’s not a bad trajectory.
“I see a lot of him in myself,” Mann said. “He has a lot of energy. He’ll dive on the ground, take the charge, get us going, get the crowd going.”
Walker is pretty good at that last part, too. Several times on Saturday, Walker urged the crowd to get on their feet and get loud.
And with the game in hand, Walker, wearing a big grin on his face, looked out into the Tucker Center and motioned for fans to “bring it” as they expressed their adoration.
With a 15-1 record, a deep cast of veterans and newcomers and new history seemingly made with every win, it seemed like a perfect time for Walker to soak in the moment.
“C.J. has a unique confidence level that’s beyond most freshman years,” Hamilton said. “He feels that he’s capable of playing against anybody, and that’s the refreshing thing about him. Not only is he giving us the physical part, he’s into the game mentally and emotionally.
“For a youngster, he’s probably giving as much leadership on the bench as anyone on our team.”