FSU crushes Florida to open the season

Haylee Blitch/NoleGameday

On the back of its stifling defense, Florida State routed in-state rival Florida for its fifth straight victory in the Sunshine Showdown, 81-60. The Seminoles entered the game as just 4.5 points and were missing the services of Phil Cofer, their leading scorer from a year ago. Cofer will most likely miss most, if not all, of November.

The Gators jumped out to a 6-2 advantage just over four minutes into the game. Trent Forrest pushed the ball up the floor and found PJ Savoy in the corner for FSU’s first triple of the season. On the ensuing possession, Mfiondu Kabengele was able to force a steal and Forrest scored to put the ‘Noles up 7-6. Florida wouldn’t lead again.

“I’m a little bit shell-shocked, to be honest,” Florida coach Mike White said according to Seminoles.com. “I did not see that coming.”

Florida State controlled the tempo from the opening tip and didn’t let off on defense all night. The Seminoles played with full-court pressure and didn’t give Florida’s guards much free reign to make plays. The Gators starting lineup committed 12 of the teams 16 turnovers on the night.

MJ Walker’s second three of the first half with just under eight minutes to play pushed the ‘Noles lead up to 20-11. From there, both teams traded baskets as FSU headed into the half with a 31-20 advantage. The Gators shot just 6/25 (24%) in the opening half and couldn’t do much of anything against the stonewall defense of Florida State.

“Tonight, I thought that the respect that we have for the University of Florida brought us mentally and emotionally together,” head coach Leonard Hamilton said according to Seminoles.com. “Sometimes we had some moments, last year, where we played excellent basketball and we faltered on it.”

The Seminoles wouldn’t falter tonight. Led by Savoy, Forrest, and Terance Mann, FSU opened the second half on an 11-4 run, sparked by three treys, pushing its lead to 42-24.

“Sometimes their head will be down, and you’ll see them arguing with a teammate or stuff like that,” Walker said according to Seminoles.com. “And when you see that, sometimes you feel like you’ve got them.”

“Oh yeah,” Savoy added according to Seminoles.com. “We could tell. We know, probably about when we were up 39-22, that we had them.”

From there, Florida State began to open this game up.  A Savoy three-pointer with 9:44 to play in the game ballooned the lead to 28 and a six-point spurt by Christ Koumadje pushed the advantage to 74-39 with less than six minutes to play.

The Gators were able to earn some garbage time buckets and trimmed their deficit down to 21 at the final buzzer. The final score wasn’t a testament to how much of a blowout this game really was.

FSU looked dominate, plain and simple. There weren’t any egos after their Elite-Eight run and they certainly didn’t have any trouble scoring despite missing Cofer. There are still plenty of tests to come in November, but this team passed the first one with flying colors.

“We played a good basketball game tonight, against a good basketball team,” Hamilton said according to Seminoles.com. “But we still have a long way to go.”

All in all, 11 players scored for Florida State against the Gators with three finishing in double-figures. It was a team effort from beginning to end.

PJ Savoy led all scorers with 20 points and three rebounds. He knocked down 5/7 from deep and was instrumental in stretching the Florida defense. For Savoy, it was the second highest scoring game of his career and his best performance since putting up 27 points against Southern Miss in 2016.

Forrest picked up right where he left off in March against the Gators. He finished with 13 points, 5 assists, and a steal. Walker scored 10 and forced two steals during a team-high 31 minutes. It was encouraging to see after Walker struggled down the stretch of his freshman season.

Mann and Koumadje were also their steady selves, both seniors scored nine points while Mann also corralled nine rebounds.

Though the Boom Squad has some new faces this season, FSU’s bench was able to score 20 points with Mfiondu Kabengele, Anthony Polite, and David Nichols leading the way. RaiQuan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, and Devin Vassell also got in on the action.

As a team, Florida State shot 23/48 from the field, 11/23 from behind the arc, and 24/34 from the charity stripe.

The Seminoles will be back on the court at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 against Tulane. FSU won’t return to the Tucker Center until a tilt with Canisius on Monday, Nov. 19.

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