TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In this season of giving, Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State basketball team was nearly too generous during Monday’s matinee game with Stetson at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Montay Brandon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes combined for 31 points – 21 in the second half – as the Seminoles spoiled the return of long-time FSU assistant and Stetson head coach Corey Williams with a 63-59 victory.
The Seminoles withstood the best shot of Williams’ Hatters (3-10), who converted 16 FSU turnovers into 26 points, held an 18-9 scoring advantage on second-chance opportunities and an 8-2 edge in fast break points.
“I thought they out-hustled us and were a lot more alert,” Hamilton said. “There were several times when I thought we had point-blank layups and didn’t convert…They were creating baskets because of their energy. I thought their guys were a little hungrier than we were.”
Florida State (7-5) saw its 10-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining whittled to 54-52, on a pair of Kentwan Smith free throws with 2:54 to go. The Seminoles countered with Brandon’s baseline drive for a dunk, a step-back jumper and four free throws by Rathan-Mayes to restore order and secure the team’s first three-game winning streak of the season.
It wasn’t easy.
The Seminoles scored the final six points of the first half to take a 29-26 lead into the locker room, then opened the second half with a 9-4 run to push their lead to eight. Williams’ squad, however, refused to let the Noles get too far in front thanks to a big night by Smith (21 points) and 13 points from reserve point guard Angel Rivera.
“They had a great game plan,” said Brandon, one of six Seminoles who were on the roster when Williams was on staff. “They went with a little match-up zone, stuck with our guys in the corner of the zone and that slowed us down a little bit. And they played with more energy than we did, especially rebounding-wise…
“And they knew everything we were doing, which helped them as well.”
Stetson used a 7-0 run to pull within 40-38, then endured a four-minute scoreless stretch as FSU extended its lead 48-38 behind six points from Brandon. The Noles, however, managed just two field goals over the next six minutes against Stetson’s zone, which allowed the Hatters to hang around.
“We really wanted to make them make some shots,” said Williams, who judiciously used his timeouts to stem several Seminole runs. “I just wanted to put some pressure on them and at the end see what the results would be.”
Smith scored 12 of his game-high 21 points over the final eight minutes, including a pair of free throws that made for an uneasy final 2:54 for the Noles.
Brandon’s thunderous dunk, capping his 13-point second half en route to a team-high 17, sparked FSU’s final surge.
“My teammates kept finding me and I knew I had to make plays for us to get the win today,” Brandon said.
Rathan-Mayes finished with 14 points – eight in the final 5:22 – and seven assists, though two of his five turnovers came in the final 44 seconds. Kiel Turpin and Devon Bookert added eight each, while Phil Cofer chipped in with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Noles had more turnovers than assists for the first time in five games and were out-rebounded for just the second time in the last seven games, which left Hamilton breathing a sigh of relief afterward.
“We went away from what we had been doing mentally and emotionally and it nearly cost us,” Hamilton said. “I’m very happy we’re going home with a victory.”
FSU will now have a few days off for the holiday, then begin the daunting part of the schedule, which resumes Dec. 30 with a visit from Florida, followed by a trip to Mississippi State and the start of the ACC schedule.
“These type of wins go a long way as far as our morale, knowing that we can fight through hard circumstances and know we can still get wins,” Brandon said.