TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There’s a new “Boom Squad” in town and on Wednesday night, it was redshirt sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele’s turn to lead Florida State’s energizing reserves.
Kabengele scored a career-high 24 points and for the third consecutive game the 11th-ranked Seminoles’ bench combined for 40 or more points, this time at the expense of North Florida in a 95-81 victory.
The Noles improved to 10-1 with their fifth consecutive victory and extended their non-conference home game winning streak to 31 games.
Florida State built an insurmountable cushion with a 22-5 run to start the second half, swarming the Ospreys (5-8) at the defensive end to turn a five-point halftime lead into a 68-44 cushion just six minutes in. Forcing five UNF turnovers and turning them into 10 points before the first media timeout provided coach Leonard Hamilton with a glimpse of his teams’ potential.
“I thought we had moments where we played with a lot of aggression,” Hamilton said. “We got our hands on deflections and a lot of loose balls…I thought we were very disruptive and we didn’t allow them to get into any rhythm offensively.
“I saw the potential in some of our guys to be really good with playing the style of ball I think we need to play defensively. I thought our effort was really good, but I think there are some technical things that we can do better. And I think that’s going to continue to improve as we move through the season.”
Starters Trent Forrest, PJ Savoy and Christ Koumadje – members of the original “Boom Squad” as reserves on the 2016-17 season – combined for 31 points, each reaching double figures, along with senior Terance Mann (17 points) on the night.
Entering the game after the first media timeout, the current “Boom Squad” ran with the early momentum provided by the starters. Kabengele and Anthony Polite had four points each, while Devin Vassell contributed three more in a 7-4 spurt, forcing three more turnovers for a 23-point cushion, which was big enough to withstand an 11-0 run Ospreys.
UNF closed within 10, but could get no closer, in no small part due to the Noles’ reserves, who over the past three games have outscored their opponents’ reserves 123-65.
Afterward, Ospreys coach Matt Driscoll heaped high praise on the Seminoles’ “connectivity” and singled out the work of Kabengele, whose first half play put a halt to UNF’s fast start.
“[Kabengaele] is a beast. A beast,” Driscoll said. “And he is from the old school. He ain’t from the new school. And praise God he ain’t listening to anybody and praise God he doesn’t get caught up in all that minutiae on Twitter and all that…I told him after the game, ‘If you stay this way, you are going to make as much as you ever want to make. If you stay and do what you do.’”
Weathering an early shooting barrage from the opposition for the second time in three nights, the Seminoles dug out of an early 9-2 hole by turning over the Ospreys and executing at the offensive end.
The Noles trailed 17-16 at the first media timeout (13:56), as the Ospreys hit their first 7-of-8 shot attempts, including 3-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc. At that point Hamilton went to his bench for a fresh five players.
Kabengele, who scored 12 of FSU’s 20 first half bench points, gave the Noles their first lead, 18-17, on a putback basket. They were the first of his eight consecutive points, capped by a 15-foot fadeaway jumper that gave FSU the lead for good, 30-28, with 9:16 to play.
“I caught a rhythm early,” Kabengele said of his fast start. “I had a good shootaround. I had good preparation. Everything just went in order leading up to the game.”
Converting 7-of-12 shots from the floor and all 10 of his free throw attempts, to go along with a team-high seven rebounds, Kabengele’s contributions extended beyond his stat line.
“Mfiondu is an emotional young man,” Hamilton said. “He enjoys playing and he has a lot to prove…He has a burning desire to be successful. Once the game starts he turns into another person. He’s into every possession…He energizes the other players.”
“We expect him to come in and do what he does for us; very efficiently score points for us, get rebounds…block shots, alter shots,” Mann said. “Him also stepping up and being a vocal leader is also big for us. He does a lot.”
And Wednesday night it was his turn to shine, much to the chagrin of the Ospreys, who got a game-high 27 points from Tallahassee native JT Escobar, but couldn’t keep up with the deep and talented Noles.
After connecting on 10 of its first 13 shots, UNF cooled off and was just 3-of-12 from the floor over the final 10:48. FSU successfully sped up the Ospreys on defense, forcing 10 turnovers, which it turned in to 12 points.
And when the Noles were forced to execute in the half-court, they did so with ease. Forrest had four of the Noles’ 10 first half assists on 21 field goals and FSU committed just one turnover through the first 20 minutes.
Florida State led 46-39 at the half, converting on 22 of 35 possessions – a 63 percent rate – while averaging a whopping 1.3 points per possession. The Noles shot 50 percent (21-of-42) from the floor with 10 dunks.
The Seminoles head to South Florida to close out the 2018 portion of the schedule on Saturday against Saint Louis in the Metro by T-Mobile Orange Bowl Basketball Classic. Tip-off is at 2:30 p.m. in Sunrise, Fla.