TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – Leonard Hamilton did things a little differently after Florida State’s win over Charleston Southern earlier this week.
Rather than have his assistants break down film and prepare the post-game report, he instead put that responsibility on his players.
And despite having overcome a slow start to emerge with a double-digit win, they didn’t always like what they saw.
“It showed a lot of mistakes, a lot of things we could have done better defensively and offensively,” sophomore guard Trent Forest said. “It’s a totally different view. You can see ‘I didn’t do this – why didn’t I do this?’ … It gave us a totally different perspective.”
Turns out a fresh perspective might have been just what FSU needed. Because after back-to-back games that left them feeling unsatisfied, the Seminoles looked like a fresh, renewed team during a 98-45 rout of Southern Mississippi on Thursday afternoon at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
FSU (11-1) shot better than 56 percent from the field, fell one 3-pointer shy of a school record and outrebounded the Golden Eagles 42-28.
It was the Seminoles’ second win over Southern Miss (7-5) in as many seasons, having topped USM 98-49 on Dec. 6, 2016.
“It seems like just a little over a year ago I was kind of in this same situation and told you I’d probably never be back,” Southern Miss coach Doc Sadler said. “Well, I can promise you I won’t be after this. Wow. Leonard’s got such a good basketball team and, where we’re at, it’s just too tough for us.”
The Seminoles flexed their muscles up and down the court on Thursday, but did most of their heavy lifting from the 3-point line.
Paced by a breakout performance from junior sharpshooter P.J. Savoy, FSU was a staggering 19 of 36 from the perimeter and would have tied a 10-year-old school record for made 3s had Will Miles connected on buzzer-beater at the end of the game.
Savoy did all of his damage from distance, finishing 5 of 10 from the field and with game-highs in points (17) and rebounds (7).
On a day when pretty much everything went right for FSU, seeing Savoy break out of a mini-slump – he’d scored in double-figures just once this season – might have been the most encouraging sign.
“It was great to see PJ back,” senior guard Braian Angola said. “He’s going to be scary the rest of the year.”
The same might go for Forrest, who did a little bit of everything against the Golden Eagles. He had seven points, six rebounds and an ACC-high 12 assists in only 18 minutes of work.
For coach Leonard Hamilton, it was the latest sign that Forrest has returned to form after working his way back from a preseason knee injury.
“He has such a winner’s mentality,” Hamilton said. “All he wants to do is make the right decision to help us win games, and I thought you saw a lot of that today. He passed up a lot of shots to create opportunities for his teammates.”
Those teammates made the most of their chances.
Freshmen MJ Walker (5 for 7) and Mfiondu Kabengele (5 for 5) combined for 27 points, while Cofer and Angola each added nine.
And as the Seminoles’ lead ballooned in the second half, Hamilton emptied his bench andwhich allowed 13 different players to find the scoresheet. Seldom-used reserves Wyatt Wilkes, Justin Lindner, Harrison Prieto, Travis Light and Will Miles then closed out the final three minutes of the game.
Light thrilled the crowd, his teammates and even USM’s Sadler by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, while Prieto added a layup that pushed the Seminoles to their second-highest point total of the season.
“The only thing positive, I guess, that I can take away from here is to see their bench get so excited for the guys that don’t get to play very much,” Sadler said. “That’s special. When you’ve got guys over there in the last two or three minutes and their teammates are really cheering (them) on because those guys don’t get to play much, that tells me that they’ve got an unbelievable culture. They’re pulling for each other. And, as a coach, that’s kind of neat.”
Hamilton found plenty more positives, but chief among them was that the Seminoles were dialed in and focused for a full game.
Given that FSU’s non-conference slate is over and a date at No. 4 Duke lies ahead on Dec. 30, that might turn out to be the longtime coach’s favorite Christmas gift this year.
“Today, we were consistent for 40 minutes,” Hamilton said. “While we’re still a work in progress, today is one of those days I thought we took a step in the right direction.”