Early season holiday tournaments are weird. They are often played in makeshift arenas that feature awkward sight lines and hit or miss lighting. And that’s not even factoring in the distractions and break from routines that the actual holidays bring. Fortunately, this game ended with a very normal result, as Florida State dominated the University of Alabama-Birmingham 81-63 in the first round of the AdvoCare Invitational.
The first five minutes of this game, aside from PJ Savoy, looked like a holiday tournament. All players without Savoy on the back of their jersey combined to miss the first nine field goal attempts—some of them not even drawing iron. UAB, mostly a man-to-man team, opened up with a zone in an effort to slow down the Seminole attack and FSU took a few possessions to adjust. Meanwhile, FSU’s length and aggressiveness on defense prevented the Blazers from getting anything resembling a good look.
At the 14:56 mark the teams were tied 8-8.
From there, the Seminoles started to execute. FSU reduced their turnover percentage from over 25% to under 20%. Leonard Hamilton went to his bench frequently and found contributions from David Nichols, Devin Vassell, and RaiQuan Gray. Slowly but surely the ’Noles built a 42-31 halftime lead, playing a 35 possession half.
Out of the locker room, UAB showed their mettle and made it clear they wouldn’t go away without a fight. A series of turnovers and missed shots from FSU combined with easy dribble penetration by UAB guards allowed the Blazers to quickly trim the lead to seven. Not pleased, Hamilton called a timeout. The team responded.
Vassell hit a corner 3, and Terance Mann followed suit from the exact same spot 33 seconds later. Just like that the lead was 13, and UAB never got it under double-digits again.
The win brings FSU to 4-0 on the season with a return to action coming less than 24 hours later against the very talented LSU Tigers.
Given the short turnaround, I’m going to give a few quick hitting observations here as opposed to a full-fledged Basketball Breakdown:
- The defensive intensity is high and consistent throughout games. However, the execution noticeably drops off when Trent Forrest and Mann leave the court, especially on the perimeter. Guys like M.J. Walker and PJ Savoy have dramatically improved on the defensive end of the court, but they’re not elite on-ball defenders like Forrest (at least not yet, in Walker’s case). It’ll be interesting to see if Hamilton keeps at least one of Forrest/Mann on the court over the next two games.
- Vassell played 15 minutes and made a solid impact. In fact, he was on the court for much of FSU’s early second half spurt. Was this to preserve the starters for 3 games in 4 days? Is he gaining trust from the coaching staff and earning more playing time?
- Dribble penetration continues to be an issue for the defense, leading to easy buckets for the opposition and/or lazy fouls by FSU. LSU guard Tremont Waters is a tremendous talent and should test the Seminoles mightily.
- 3 point shooting continues to be a strength, as the ’Noles shot 6-14 from deep while the outcome was still in doubt. (FSU finished 6-18).
- Free throw shooting also has been hot lately. After shooting 80% on 30 attempts against Canisius on Monday, FSU knocked down 23 out of 26 attempts (89%) against UAB.
- Gray is looking more and more comfortable as the season progresses. Tonight he displayed impressive quickness in the open court and creativity around the basket.
- 11 rebounds from Forrest (ties career-high set vs. Syracuse last season), but he also set a career-high with 6 TO’s (more than he had in FSU’s first 3 games combined). For the first time all season he looked a bit out of control at times and seemed to force a few passes. Hopefully he comes in focused against LSU.
- Mann was nearly perfect on the night, finishing with 17 points on 5-5 shooting from the field and 6-7 from the charity stripe. He displays senior leadership both on the court and while pumping up teammates from the bench (remember, he was an original member of the Boom Squad), and he continues to display an improved touch from the perimeter. He still hesitated on one wide-open three (the possession resulted in a turnover), but, overall, Mann has quietly put together a very nice start to the season.
- UAB came in as a top-10 offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing more than 42% of the available offensive boards. FSU held them to 30%. That’s good.
FSU will face No. 19 LSU in semifinals tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 on ESPN2/U.