ORLANDO— Florida State doesn't have much that resembles an offense.
That's a fact.
Now that Toney Douglas is gone, a weak Seminoles scoring unit is even worse. Freshman Michael Snaer hasn't emerged as a quality replacement yet, and Soloman Alabi hasn't developed into a go-to guy in the post despite his incredible, well-built 7'1'' frame.
Even with the anemic FSU offense, the Tomahawk Chop was in full force in support of Florida State as they eked out an Old Spice Classic Championship because of a ridiculously good defense.
"The defense is what we pride ourselves on," said power forward and tournament MVP Chris Singleton after defeating Alabama in the second round of the tournament. "It's what we do. Our offense won't always be there, but our defense will be."
Florida State's devastating man-to-man defense starts with its incredible size. Leonard Hamilton doesn't have a player shorter than 6'4'' in his rotation.
His front line has a seven footer and two more players that are at least 6'8'', but also extremely bulky. They are tall, longer, AND strong.
Teams simply cannot shoot against Florida State. The Seminoles ranked 19th in field goal percentage defense last year; this year Hamilton's team is third. The Noles' D is making up for the fact that FSU can't put points on the board.
Despite Florida State's problematic offense, the Seminoles have figured out a way to get just enough points on the board. Their sparks haven't come from their stars Chris Singleton and Soloman Alabi.
Against Alabama, it was long range shooter Deividas Dulkys who hit several three pointers in a late first-half spurt that sent the Seminoles into the locker room with a five point lead.
"We need him shooting threes," said point guard Derwin Kitchen, "When he's hitting threes, we are a good team."
Dulkys isn't exactly your go-to guy, but neither is junior forward Jordan DeMercy.
His energy sparked Florida State's 17-point comeback against Marquette. After playing a total of 15 minutes in the first two games of the Old Spice Classic, Hamilton played DeMercy for 19 minutes against Marquette.
"Jordan and Luke [Loucks] came in and gave us tremendous effort," Hamilton said. "Jordan's activity diving on the floor for that loose ball and making that back-door play...that dunk, it kind of energized the team. His enthusiasm inspired the players and they followed his lead."
The back-door play Hamilton is referring to is a thunderous slam DeMercy thew down after taking a pass on a backdoor cut along the baseline. DeMercy brought the Milk House to its feet and kept the Seminoles from drowning in the second half.
Once DeMercy got Florida State going, coach Hamilton finally found scoring from his two stars. He needs Chris Singleton and Soloman Alabi to consistently give him 30 points between the two.
Singleton's development has been more noticeable than Alabi's.
"He was very smart," Hamilton said. "He was in foul trouble for long periods of time, but he was able to still be aggressive. When the game is on the line, he made the plays, and that's shown he's growing up as a sophomore."
Even with Alabi's struggles (entering the final minute against Marquette, he was just 2-of-5 for four points), Hamilton took a BIG step forward by giving Alabi the ball with the game on the line.
Twice Hamilton chose to run the offense through Alabi as the largest defender Buzz Williams could throw at Alabi was 6'7'' Lazar Hayward.
Despite Alabi showing there was no reason why he could take advantage of the size disparity, Hamilton trusted Alabi to deliver two big baskets.
"Soloman is very capable and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. I think it's a matter of him relaxing, getting a few more games under our belt and gaining more confidence."
For Alabi, converting both opportunities came down to focus.
"My team believes in me and they told me to take care of the ball, to be patient and read the defense before I score."
If Alabi's stretch play is an indication of the player he can become, Hamilton could have the missing link to make his offense effective. If Alabi develops an inside game like the one he showed late against Marquette, then it will free up Florida State's shooters.
Freeing up FSU's shooters means the Seminoles offense should dramatically improve.
An improved offense means Hamilton won't need his defense to ALWAYS suffocate his opponents.
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