Feb. 6, 2014
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With its urgency heightened in the wake of a three-game losing streak, Florida State sophomore Aaron Thomas left no doubt that the Seminoles were not going to go quietly into the stretch run of the ACC basketball season.
Thomas scored a game-high 24 points, converting 6 of 8 3-point attempts, and senior Okaro White added 15 points and eight rebounds as the Seminoles rolled over hapless Virginia Tech, 70-50 Wednesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
"Our game plan was to put our most aggressive and most physical players on the floor at the start of the game to give us a little more energy," Hamilton said. "We didn't expect [Virginia Tech] to come out and play zone as much as they did - they decided they were going to play zone the entire game. Our players responded appropriately. I thought we had tremendous energy on the defensive end and had a much better balance on our offensive attack."
Stymied offensively by zone defenses in the past, the Seminoles moved the ball with precision, created open shots on the perimeter by feeding the post and got the free throw line with unusual regularity. FSU converted 21 of 25 shots from the line, where they outscored the Hokies (8-14, 1-9) by 18.
Most importantly, the Seminoles brought an energy to the game which had at times been missing. Following Saturday's unsightly home loss to Clemson, White issued his teammates with a challenge to do just that, then, led by example from the start against the Hokies.
"The guys have really responded," White said. "I felt like I had not been playing up to my energy MO in conference play, so after the last loss I really dug deep and looked myself in the mirror. I wanted to come out and be that energy guy that people thought I was when I was at Florida State."
Despite riding an eight-game losing streak, the Hokies stuck around throughout most of the first half. But the game changed in a blink of an eye with 2:31 remaining and the `Noles leading 23-18. Montay Brandon sank a 3-pointer and freshman Jarquez Smith was fouled away from the play. Smith swished both free throws and the five-point play doubled FSU's lead to 28-18.
"Huge," is how Virginia Tech coach James Johnson described the sequence. "You're talking about going into halftime in a tie game, up two or down two, not down 11."
The `Noles led 31-20 at the break and the Hokies never got closer than seven in the second half.
"That was a big play and we sustained our effort in the second half," White said.
Thomas made sure of it. The sharp-shooter found his stroke, connecting on three consecutive 3-pointers as the Seminoles pushed their lead to 48-33. He followed a pair of Devon Bookert free throws with his sixth 3-pointer of the night to push the lead to 53-35.
"I thought the guys fought and competed, but they were just a little over-matched," Johnson said of the Hokies. "Aaron Thomas took the game over tonight. We played the zone and I thought the zone was good for us until he took the game over. He was the difference in the game tonight." Hamilton, who gave Thomas his second start of the season, was hardly surprised.
"There's no doubt he's playing with a lot more confidence," said FSU's veteran coach. "You have to give credit to his teammates because I thought we moved the ball and got him those opportunities."
"Coach told me to be aggressive on both ends and I think I did a good job of that," said Thomas, who was two points shy of matching his career high for scoring. "After the second or third three my teammates told me to keep shooting. They did a good job of finding me."
The Seminoles received contributions from many corners. Making his first start of the season at point guard, Brandon controlled the offense and helped set the tone defensively. Bookert came off the bench and supplied seven points, eight rebounds and three assists (without a turnover). Boris Bojanovsky chipped in eight points off the bench, including two of FSU's seven blocked shots.
It didn't hurt that the `Noles limited the Hokies to 34 percent shooting from the floor.
With the first of three games in six days in the books, Florida State hits the road for a Saturday date at Maryland, then returns home to face Miami on Monday (9 p.m.).