TALLAHASSEE – The 17th-ranked Florida State men closed out its fifth consecutive season of non-conference perfection at the Donald L. Tucker Center Saturday, cruising past North Alabama, 88-71.
The Seminoles (11-2, 1-1 ACC) led by as many as 30 points in the second half against the Lions (5-8), on the way to their 38th consecutive home victory against a non-conference opponent. It’s the third-longest active streak in NCAA Division I basketball.
Senior point guard Trent Forrest was a junior at Chipley High when the Noles dropped a 70-55 loss to Nebraska on Dec. 1, 2014; their last home setback against a non-ACC opponent.
“I didn’t even know that,” said Forrest, one of five Noles in double figures (10 points) against the Lions, to go along with a game-high six assists. “That is crazy.
“We take pride in playing good for our home crowd; just really trying to get Florida State basketball back to prominence. Since my first year here, that’s just been the goal, to continue to get support and I feel like we’ve been able to do that.”
Forrest had plenty of support from a host of first-year teammates during Saturday’s matinee. Junior transfer Malik Osborne scored a team-high 14 points – his best in 13 games at FSU – while freshmen Balsa Koprivica and Patrick Williams chipped in 13 and 12, respectively.
Redshirt sophomore Anthony Polite chimed in with 11 for the cause on a day when the Noles were a perfect 17-of-17 from the free throw line and used a 27-9 run to erase their only deficit (7-6) midway through the first half.
Despite some uneven play over the final 10 minutes, it was the kind of confidence-building win the Noles needed as they head into the bulk of the ACC schedule which begins Tuesday at home against Georgia Tech. Tip-off is set for noon.
“Everybody bought into the game plan and we all got rewarded for it,” Osborne said. “I’m very happy for Balsa, for Pat…It’s definitely a confidence-booster going into ACC play with these guys being young guys; new guys. They’re pretty anxious to play in the ACC like the rest of us are.”
Leonard Hamilton likes where his team is positioned in terms of development on the cusp of 18 consecutive ACC games, especially as it pertains to the growth and development of the Noles’ newcomers.
“What we’re trying to do is allow them to mature and improve at a normal rate without the pressure,” Hamilton said. “They’re capable of impacting the games, there’s no doubt that…I’m expecting them to be factors in our season. They’ve shown that they’re capable. We want them to continue to get better and I think saw signs today that they’re improving and they’re comfortable. They are showing a level of maturity and becoming more consistent.”
Balsa, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia, was a force as the Noles launched their game-changing, first half run. He followed a jump hook with a free throw for a three-point play, slammed home a Devin Vassell feed and dropped two more free throws for his first seven points in a 90-second stretch.
Osborne scored eight straight points, aided by a pair of 3-pointers, as FSU pushed its lead to 38-23. Williams went on a personal 7-0 run to make it 45-25.
The Noles led 47-26 at the half.
“We’re just as confident in those guys as we are in the starters,” Forrest said of the newcomers. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If we can have that balance like we did tonight with those guys coming in, bringing the energy and that spark off the bench, it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
Hamilton was also encouraged by the contributions of junior transfer point guard RayQuan Evans, who pitched in seven points in 12-plus minutes of relief work for Forrest.
The Noles haven’t only been good against non-conference opponents at home. They have won 40 of their last 50 games at the Tucker Center, thanks in large part to their 15-1 home record last season, on the way to a 29-8 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.
“We don’t really talk about the record, but we talk about having pride,” said Osborne, who sat out last year after transferring in from Rice. “We’re going to have pride playing in the Tucker Center. We instill that mindset into our younger guys…This is our home court and we’re going to defend it until we can’t walk anymore.”