November 20, 2019 - by

Basketball Tops Chattanooga, 89-53; Now 3-1

Florida State 89, Chattanooga 53 /

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (– There was no drama or late-game heroics this time around.

Five days removed from a close call against Western Carolina, the Florida State men’s basketball team made quick work of Chattanooga in an 89-53 victory in front of 7,572 on Wednesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

And they did it without two key starters, as both M.J. Walker and RaiQuan Gray missed the game with minor injuries.

No matter. Devin Vassell scored 17 points and Patrick Williams added 16 as the Seminoles improved to 3-1, won their first game of the Emerald Coast Classic and earned their most lopsided victory since February 2017. They’ll play two more home games – against Saint Francis (Pa.) and Chicago State – before meeting No. 20 Tennessee in Niceville next week.

“I thought our guys really responded well,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We challenged them to focus on a much better job of executing. The other night, when we played against Western Carolina, I thought we were extremely aggressive and anxious. We had very poor ball movement and ball reversal. …

“(Tonight), we moved the ball and moved the defense and we had high-percentage shots, which gave some of our big guys a little more room to go to the offensive boards inside.”

Hamilton said he was “anxious” to see how his team would manage without Walker and Gray, but their absences led to some positive contributions down the roster.

Like the best combined efforts in the young FSU careers of centers Balsa Koprivica (10 points, seven rebounds) and Dominik Olejniczak (10, three). And the first box score contributions of transfer guard RayQuan Evans’ time at Florida State (four points, two assists). And the first 3-pointers of transfer shooting specialist Nathanael Jack’s career (six points, five rebounds).

Even senior guard Trent Forrest enjoyed something of a different outing – FSU’s leading scorer had only five points but also dished seven assists.

All told, Hamilton did exactly what he hoped he could during this stretch of the season: empty the bench, get plenty of minutes for plenty of players and workshop a variety of lineup combinations.

Even without the two starters, 15 Seminoles checked into the game, with nine logging at least than 12 minutes on the floor and only Forrest reaching 30.

A five-man lineup of Justin Lindner, Travis Light, Harrison Prieto, Will Miles and recent addition Cleveland Yates closed out the game for FSU, with Miles’ 3-pointer capping the Seminoles’ scoring.

“Our guys stepped up and knocked down some shots,” Hamilton said.

The Mocs led, 12-10, in the early goings before the Seminoles flexed their muscles with a 16-1 run that all but put the game out of reach.

Florida State led by 12 at halftime and then by as many as 39 points during the second half.

And after starting 0-for-3 from 3-point range, the Seminoles responded by making four of their next five shots from distance and finished 10-of-25 – with six different players notching at least one.

“That definitely helps,” Vassell said of FSU’s extended rotation. “It also gives everybody some confidence. Some people aren’t able to play as much or haven’t played as much in these first couple games, but to come in and make an impact like that, that’s a big boost of confidence and shows the type of team that we are.”

Exactly what that is, Hamilton still isn’t so sure.

He noted in his post-game press conference that the Seminoles are still determining their best lineups and strategies, a process that has been made more difficult by a rash of injuries up and down the roster.

Olejniczak, for instance, has been dealing with a calf problem for the past few weeks and just recently has started feeling close to full-strength.

Then, as soon as he does, the Seminoles find themselves without two veterans that are a big part of their plans for this season.

Hamilton said that neither Walker nor Gray have serious injuries, but that he doesn’t expect them to play Saturday.

Still, if the Seminoles can figure things out on the fly while still winning by double-digits, all the early season roster fluctuations may turn out to be a net positive once ACC play begins in a few weeks.

“We’re still trying to grow and learn,” he said. “You guys (media) are finding out things we’re that capable of doing as I am. We’re probably learning about this team at the same time.

“I think we have potential and we have got a long ways to go. Tonight was a step in the right direction.”

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