Coming off their first win of the season on Monday against the Mercer Bears, there was some hope that maybe FSU’s darkest days were behind them. The depth is slowly improving as some of the injured players are working their way back into playing shape. The defensive intensity looked a little better against Mercer and Cam’Ron Fletcher has a breakout game setting a career high.
That hope was quickly extinguished in this one. Siena led from start to finish, ultimately winning 80-63, and not only looked like the better team on the court, they also looked like the only team in the game that truly cared about the result. I touch on this in more detail down below in the recap, but the problems for these Seminoles go way beyond a few injuries and a disgusting NCAA eligibility decision. It’s sad to type this, but the “New Blood” culture of everybody buying in and doing their role to help the team in whatever way that’s needed appears to be dead—or at the very least needs to be on every milk carton in town.
The game opened with the two teams trading threes, before Siena quickly went on a spurt. When it reached 11-5 a bit more than 3 minutes in, Leonard Hamilton was forced to call a timeout. Most of the Saints early success was a result of FSU giving wide open looks, while on the other end, Caleb Mills and Matthew Cleveland forced a couple of tough shots.
The lead grew to as large as 16-5 after more lazy Florida State defense led to more wide open shots for Siena. Coach Hamilton subbed in Chandler Jackson, Jalen Warley, and De’Ante Green and the defensive energy and offensive ball movement both immediately picked up. Those three helped cut the lead to 18-9, and really could have had it 18-13 if Naheem McLeod finished two good looks inside.
After another easy dunk by Siena, Fletcher went on a personal 6-0 run, one the old fashioned way and one stepping into a bullseye three on the secondary break from a nice feed by Warley. Florida State would trim the lead to 22-20, but the rest of the half was all Siena.
The problems, as has been the case all season, started on defense. At some point Coach Hamilton has to try something else besides the switch everything, team-man defense that he’s employed for the last 5 or so seasons because the roster that’s currently available simply cannot execute it. Like Stetson, Troy, and UCF before them, Siena spread FSU out and relied on their backcourt to repeatedly beat their man off the dribble leading to easy buckets at the rim and wide open threes off kick-outs. Frequently that man was McLeod, who was simply outclassed on the perimeter trying to defend quicker guys. But it certainly wasn’t limited to him, as FSU’s matador defense allowed the Saints to shoot 57.7% from the field in the first half. This included UNC transfer Andrew Platek shooting 3-4 from deep in the opening stanza.
Conversely, the complete lack of disruption by the Seminole defense led to very few transition opportunities for the FSU offense. That’s not good when the roster is built to thrive in transition. Operating in the half-court, FSU ball-handlers were often dribbling into traffic with no one really moving or cutting off the ball to force the defense into a decision.
Predictably, the ‘Noles shot 29% from the field and 25% from three. This all led to a 43-26 deficit at halftime, capped off by McLeod getting ejected with 1.8 seconds left after giving a Saints defender a cheap shot elbow to the head.
Coming out of the locker room, FSU finally looked like the kind of selfless team we’ve come to expect. Maybe the McLeod ejection was a blessing in disguise as it forced Hamilton’s hand on going small? Or maybe the halftime speech was filled with fire and brimstone? Regardless, the Seminole defense was active and actually creating disruption, which led to turnovers, which led to easy FSU baskets. Florida State scored the first 8 points of the half and the deficit was down to 9 at 43-34.
Unfortunately, that early burst was unable to be sustained and the lead was back to 13 by the under-16 timeout. An poor decision and even worse pass by Cleveland led to an easy runout by Siena and after a second half that started so promising for FSU, the Saints lead was suddenly 51-36.
From there the game was essentially over. Not because Siena is a more talented team, but because the men in garnet just didn’t seem interested in doing the kinds of things that win basketball games. Jogging back on defense in transition after a turnover is not winning basketball. Selfishly attempting to dribble through multiple defenders and then putting up a difficult shot or wild pass is not winning basketball. Losing any semblance of your man and ball because you want to gamble on a steal or try to make a big block out of your area, only to see your man end up with a wide open look is not winning basketball.
Yet that was the type of plays Florida State made time and time again. It’s a fact that FSU is short-handed. Guys like Jaylan Gainey and Baba Miller would make a big difference. So too would be a fully healthy Jackson and Green. But even short-handed teams can still play with toughness. And even bad teams can selflessly execute the system they are being asked to run. In fact, we’ve seen that here in Tallahassee. The 2013 team was not a great or even a good team, but Michael Snaer simply wouldn’t allow them to be soft. That team scratched and clawed their way to 17 wins, many of them where Snaer seemingly willed them to victory.
Cleveland scored an inefficient 14 points on 15 shots. As a team, FSU finished 20-55 from the field (36%), while allowing Siena to shoot 27-52 and 9-22 from 3. Look at the rest at your own peril.
FSU has little time to wallow in their own self-pity, as they have a quick turnaround for the second of three games in this ESPN Events Invitational. They’ll face the loser of Ole Miss vs Stanford Friday at 1:30pm eastern. Being on the loser’s side of the bracket, the game will only be broadcast on ESPN News, although maybe that’s a good thing for our blood pressure.