TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – Wednesday was a night of celebration at the Donald L. Tucker with the Florida State men’s basketball team extending its home winning streak to 25 games and freshly-anointed football coach Willie Taggart leading the chop from mid-court after addressing the crowd at halftime.
The Seminoles were well on their way to a 96-71 victory over Loyola by the time Taggart left the floor after trading high-fives with the student section.
With Braian Angola leading five double-figure scorers with 18 points and the team shooting a season-best 58 percent from the floor the Noles are now 8-0; their best start since opening the 2003-04 season 10-0 – 14 seasons ago.
Attacking the glass early and often on the offensive end, it was clear the Noles were not suffering from a hangover following Monday night’s 83-66 road rout of No. 5 Florida. Behind scoring contributions from a quartet of players, FSU ran out to a 17-6 lead less than five minutes into the game against the over-matched Greyhounds (1-7).
“It was a quick turnaround for them and I thought if we got off to a quick start we’d be okay, but they came out right from the start of the game,” Loyola coach G.G. Smith said. “Once we didn’t get that quick start and we’re down 10-12 on the road against an ACC team it’s really tough for us to come back. From the jump, we weren’t able to do it.
“They were ready to go and beat us up pretty good today.”
It was a pleasing response by coach Leonard Hamilton’s young charges.
“This gave us what we needed,” said Hamilton, whose team owns the nation’s third-longest home winning streak and remains one of 12 unbeaten Division I programs in the country. “Part of developing into the best team you can become is sometimes you have to overcome those mental challenges of having an emotional victory, then coming back and have to recharge your batteries and do the same thing again.
“I didn’t think we came out with the same level of focus [as Florida], but I thought that from an execution standpoint there were times we executed very well offensively. Defensively, we didn’t contain the dribble very well and I didn’t think we did a good job of rebounding their misses. That gives us a lot to go back and work on.”
Despite yielding too much dribble penetration to the Greyhound guards, the Noles never let up on the offensive end.
Trimming the deficit to seven after back-to-back baskets, Loyola was on the receiving end of a 12-2 run with M.J. Walker, Brandon Allen and CJ Walker draining 3-pointers and Phil Cofer capping the splurge with an old-school three-point play. After twice expanding the lead to 20, the Noles carried a 46-31 lead into the locker room at the break.
The second half proved more of the same as Hamilton’s squad built their lead to as many as 26.
Sophomore CJ Walker (15 points) and freshman M.J. Walker (14) were a combined 7-of-13 from 3-point range, leading a barrage of 11 triples. Senior Phil Cofer pitched in 12 – his fifth consecutive double-digit game – and Terance Mann added 11.
While Cofer has plenty of reason to be excited about his play – he entered the season having never put together back-to-back double-digit scoring performances – he’s even more encouraged about the attitude his team carried to the court following the big win at Florida.
“After that game I think everybody was looking forward to the next game,” Cofer said. “We celebrated it, watched film on it, but everybody was thinking about the next game. ‘All right, we have to move on.’ Everybody wants to do more than just get a win. We want to get back to the [NCAA] tournament and make a run. Everybody’s locked in this year.”
The Seminoles will be tested twice in the next 10 days. They face Tulane Monday in Tampa, Fla., as part of the Heritage Insurance Classic, then travel to Sunrise, Fla. to tackle Oklahoma State on Dec. 16 in the Orange Bowl Classic.
“Our maturity has to happen fast,” CJ Walker said. “We have to teach a lot to our younger guys as well. Playing so many games back-to-back, our maturity level has to go up because if we want to win we still have to stay humble. Staying humble is the biggest part of becoming mature.”