December 30, 2013 - by
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Dec. 30, 2013

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By Bob Thomas

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On a night when the Florida State men’s basketball team could not find the mark shooting from the perimeter, the Seminoles finished off Charleston Southern with a dominating performance in the paint.

Sophomore swingman Aaron Thomas scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half on an array of drives and dunks, leading the Seminoles to a 67-59 victory over the Buccaneers at the Donald L. Tucker Center. With its fourth consecutive victory, Florida State (9-3) closed its non-conference schedule on a high note heading into the Jan. 4 Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Virginia.

“A lot of times at this stage of the season when you’re playing against a team that’s not from a BCS conference, your players think you should win by a larger margin,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I’m very happy we won this basketball game. … This was a very good team for us to play because we’re going to play some teams in the ACC who shoot the ball very well from the perimeter.”

The Seminoles countered the Buccaneers’ 10 3-pointers with a dominating 44-10 scoring advantage in the paint.

Sophomore point guard Devin Bookert delivered a career-high nine assists to go along with a game-high seven rebounds, offsetting his 1-of-6 shooting performance.

“He got big rebounds and big assists when we needed to have them,” Hamilton said of Bookert.

“We have a lot of people on the team that are really explosive scorers,” Booker said. “They make it really easy to just put the ball in a spot and they can do the rest.”

Florida State led by as many as 14 in the second half, but saw its double-digit lead reduced to five – 61-56 – with 1:20 to play after Charleston Southern’s Saah Nimley made the second of two free throws.

The `Noles turned the ball over six times in the final five minutes, but restored order when 7-foot-3 center Boris Bojanovsky slammed home a baseline lob from Montay Brandon. FSU’s eight dunk of the night, followed by a pair of Bookert free throws after a CSU turnover, gave the `Noles a 65-56 lead with 45 seconds to go.

Ian Miller added 15 points for the Seminoles.

Playing for the first time in nine days, the Seminoles needed all of the easy baskets they could muster as they were just 4 of 18 from behind the 3-point arc. By contrast, the Buccaneers (5-7) scored 30 of their 59 points from beyond the arc.

Ultimately, the Seminoles’ inside strength and second half defense – CSU shot just 33 percent from the floor after the break and 36 percent for the game – proved to be too much. FSU turned 17 Bucs’ turnovers into 23 points.

The Seminoles built a 30-22 halftime lead by pounding the ball inside against the under-sized Buccaneers to the tune of a 20-4 points in the paint advantage. Despite the whopping disparity, FSU had trouble shaking the pesky visitors, who came into the game averaging 90 points a contest.

That all changed when sophomore big man Michael Ojo dove head-long into a pile of players and came up with a loose ball at the end of an extended scrum At the time of the change of possession, the Seminoles were clinging to an 18-17 lead with just under six minutes to play in the half.

Ojo’s hustle play sparked FSU’s 12-5 closing run to the half, fueled by Miller, who dropped in a pair of 3-pointers on his way to 11 first-half points.

“I just try to do the little things to help your team out and have to try to get everybody going, especially on the defensive end,” said Ojo, who contributed four points and six rebounds. “It’s fun for me and it’s something that I can do with my ability to help my team get going.”

“During that period Ojo got his hands on just about every ball that was loose in there,” Hamilton said. “He was giving us so much energy that it really helped lift the spirits of everybody else. He really gave us that inside presence that allowed us to go on that little spurt.”

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