March 18, 2011
Elliott Finebloom Seminoles.com
Chicago, IL - Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton did not like what he saw from his 10th-seeded Seminole basketball team in the first half of FSU's game versus Texas A&M. So he decided to do something he has rarely done this season and switch to a zone defense. That change resulted in a 34-24 second half for the Seminoles (22-10) as they downed the higher-seeded Aggies 57-50 in second round NCAA Tournament play in Chicago. The Seminoles will now advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 and face second-seeded Notre Dame Sunday.
"We don't use very many possessions of zone in our defensive schemes, but we felt that they were doing such a good job executing, we had a hard time keeping them in front of us," said Hamilton. "So we thought just a change would be good for our defense, even if we had to go back to our man to man. They hit a couple shots versus the zone, but it seemed as though it was the right thing to do during that time. It was taking some time off the clock. They were not getting the ball inside to (David) Loubeau as much as they had wanted. So we stuck with it, and it worked out for us."
The three-two zone defense helped FSU limit Texas A&M (24-9) to just 27% from the field in the second half and just over 28% from behind the arc, where Texas A&M especially hurt the Seminoles in the first half converting on 5 of 11 attempts. The zone defense coupled with the play of first-time NCAA Tournament participant Bernard James was the difference in the game.
After breaking out to an early 7-0 lead, FSU was trailing 26-23 heading into the second half and things got even worse as Texas A&M eventually broke out to a 31-23 lead. That is when James sparked a 13-0 run scoring eight of those 13 points while making four consecutive buckets at one point. After spending six years in the U.S. Air Force James started slowly in his first ever NCAA Tournament but ended up being one of the biggest difference makers in the win.
"Bernard is -- this is all new to Bernard," said Hamilton. "We have freshmen on our team that actually have more experience than him. He's a very humble person. He's extremely unselfish. He doesn't need a lot of touches in order for him to feel like he's contributing. But he wasn't following the game plan the first half. I didn't think he did a very good job of running the floor. I didn't think he did a very good job of posting up strong. I just didn't think he was doing what we needed him to do"
That all changed in the second half as James came up big again and again on both the offensive and defensive side of the court. The junior forward finished second on the team in points with 10 and second in rebounds with six. He also led the team with three blocks as he exerted himself inside the paint.
"That was the game plan from the beginning was to try to throw it down low and get their bigs in trouble," said James. "We didn't do a very good job, the bigs, we didn't do a very good job posting up and just getting the position we wanted to and calling for the ball in the first half.
"Coach Ham (Hamilton) just called us out in the locker room, and when we come back out, we were a little more aggressive and focused on getting where we wanted to."
James didn't do it alone as he had plenty of help from Derwin Kitchen who lead the team with 15 points and seven assists. The entire squad also got a lift from the return of Chris Singleton who played for the first time since injuring his foot versus Virginia February 12. The ACC coaches' Defensive Player of the Year finished with five points, two rebounds, an assist and a block.
"I'm a confident player, so I'm pretty much -- I'm sure of myself, said Singleton. "Every time I step out on the floor, I don't think anything's going to happen. But with injuries, you never know what's going to happen.
"I could have a setback, but I wasn't thinking about that. I'm looking forward, not behind."
Singleton did not check into the game until 7:35 was remaining in the first half and the Seminoles were holding on to a 14-12 lead. The move to allow Singleton to return to the game was one Hamilton agonized over for fear of causing further damage to Singleton's foot.
"I just -- I was uncomfortable with just whatever level of risk that we were taking," said Hamilton. "It's important to me that, when these guys come to school, that they get their education and they create an avenue by which they can have a better way of life. And I realize that he has an opportunity to play at the highest level, and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that.
"We wanted to win the basketball game, and I want him to -- I wish we could have gotten through this game and won a couple more games and got a little more time under our belt. But he convinced me that he was fine, that he really wanted to play, and he'd worked so hard and been so aggressive with his rehab, doubling up on all of his rehabs."
Singleton will only have one day to rest his foot as the Seminoles will look to make a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993 as they face a Fighting Irish squad coming off an impressive opening round victory over Akron and boasting a 27-6 record. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools on the hardwood.
"I believe Notre Dame led one of the top two scoring teams in the Big East, I believe," said Hamilton. "I think they might have been the best three-point field goal percentage shooting team in the Big East, I believe. I try not to ever start on another team until I complete one game. I always have another coach doing that.
"But I watched them, and they run an excellent offense, a very unique offense, kind of the way a lot of teams in Indiana, a lot of high schools, University of Indiana. Motion offense is kind of a traditional offense in the State of Indiana. And I think they do a great job of creating all different type of defensive scenarios for you to deal with."
Game time for Sunday's third round match will be announced by the NCAA Friday night.