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November 14, 2006Box Score
The three-day clinic on zone defenses is officially over, and Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton said his team did a good job of learning on the fly.
For the third game in three nights, the Seminoles had to adjust on the run as it played an opponent that relied on zone defenses to disrupt the tempo of the game. This time, FSU players needed a little longer to respond before pulling away for a 59-52 victory over SMU in the Colonial Classic.
The Seminoles (3-0) had a hard time consistently attacking the Mustangs' zone until making some second-half adjustments that kicked the offense into gear.
"Early in the season, seeing this much zone defense was a little bit of a challenge for us," Hamilton said.
SMU, coached by former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty, might as well have stuck a fork in the basketball on Tuesday night.
The Mustangs trotted out a big defensive lineup against the Seminoles and then squeezed time off the shot clock on the other end on nearly every possession.
The strategy limited FSU to just 43 field goal attempts, 10 fewer than it had against Illinois State on Monday night and 17 fewer than it had against McNeese State on Sunday night.
"They like to play at 6000 RPMs and we wanted to take it down to a 2000-RPM game," Doherty said. "I think we did that and as a result we had a chance to win."
"Our goal was to make them score in a half-court set," he added. "When you play zone, it makes them have to probe the zone a little bit more so it's more passes. It burns clock. It shortens the game. It's more frustrating for those guys. I thought the zone was fairly effective for controlling the tempo."
While the zone certainly slowed down the tempo, it didn't exactly shut out the FSU offense.
The Seminoles made 10 of 20 three-pointers, including 7 of 15 in the first half and three from senior guard Jerel Allen. That success from three-point range in the first half saved FSU, which made just one other field goal attempt in the opening 20 minutes and was 8 of 27 overall.
"Even though we shot a poor percentage in the first half, it's kind of a reversal of what it's been in the past," Hamilton said. "We shot phenomenal from the three-point line in the first half. I've never been in a game where all of our field goals in a half except for one were from three-point shots, and the other one was an old-fashioned three-pointer."
But the Seminoles made the proper adjustments at halftime and saw the offense find easier shots against the zone.
Junior guard Jason Rich spent time at the "4" position, giving the Seminoles a little more versatility to attack the middle of the SMU zone. Rich scored just 5 points and added one rebound and one assist, but every positive play he made seemed to come at just the right time for FSU.
"When you are attacking a zone defense, you really need to have a high-post guy who can make good decisions," Hamilton said. "Right now, our younger kids are not as effective in the high post in one of our offensive sets. We felt like we had to roll the dice that Jason could handle [SMU forward Ike Ofoegbu], who is a very good player. But it was more important that we put someone in the high post that they had to respect that was a threat. We got the ball into him and he made a basket and he kicked the ball out to Isaiah for a big shot."
The Seminoles made 10 of 16 field goals (3 of 5 from three-point range) against the zone in the second half.
But FSU didn't put the game away until a late surge from senior forward Al Thornton and sophomore guard Toney Douglas, who combined to score 19 of the team's final 26 points.
Douglas hit a big three-pointer to put FSU up 52-47 in the final minutes and Thornton was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the second half.
Hamilton said he was happy to see the big plays from Thornton and Douglas, but quickly added that he thought a number of players made key contributions late in the game.
"We've had different people step up who had to make big plays for us," Hamilton said. "Jerel had a big block. Isaiah made a big play. Toney came alive. Al was struggling a little bit with an injury he had there. But we've got a lot of guys who have shown they are capable.
"We have quite a few weapons and guys who can score."
With a game-high 15 points on Tuesday, Thornton earned MVP honors in the round-robin Colonial Classic. He was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Rich and Douglas as well as SMU's Ofoegbu and Jon Killen and Illinois State's Dominitrix Johnson, who scored 32 against FSU on Monday night.
The Seminoles next play host to New Orleans on Sunday.