Weiler: Old-school junkyard dog defense keeps Florida State's season alive
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - It wasn't pretty.
Florida State's showing Saturday in its NCAA Tournament opener looked far more like the FSU of old than the high-flying, light-up-the-scoreboard "New Bloods."
The Seminoles' high-powered offense was what led them to another top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But when that offense sputtered Saturday as the Seminoles struggled to maintain separation in their NCAA Tournament first-round game against UNC Greensboro, it was the consistently inconsistent defense that rose to the task to keep the Seminoles' season alive in the 64-54 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I think our defense was what won the game for us today," FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the win.
"When you're not shooting real well and you turn the ball over, your defense can carry you in games like this, and this is what happened for us today."
It was reminiscent of entirely too many games I watched at the Tucker Civic Center before FSU's move to an up-tempo offense. The days at FSU when both teams scoring 50 points in a game was not guaranteed.
The Seminoles' notable increase in tempo over the last six seasons has distanced the program from when it led the nation in field goal percentage defense in 2010 and 2011.
But it was encouraging to see that FSU can still return to those roots when the offensive production isn't there.
FSU forced just 10 turnovers, but made the Spartans work for every shot in Saturday's game.
UNCG entered Saturday's game making 50.3% of its two-point shots this season. FSU's length was definitely unlike anything the Spartans had seen this season and the Seminoles executed well to hold UNCG to 36.4% inside the arc.
The Spartans managed just four two-point shots over the final 20 minutes, largely negating the fact that UNCG hit seven three-pointers while FSU didn't make any.
"Our defense really pulled us through in the game," FSU forward RaiQuan Gray said.
"Considering how our offense was, our defense was the key thing that pulled this win out for us."
While FSU played with plenty of defensive toughness to outlast the Spartans' upset bid, the Seminoles' head coach may have been even tougher.
Hamilton was, after all, coaching through plenty of pain after he ruptured his Achilles just before his team's flight to Indianapolis last Sunday night.
He was sporting a boot on his left foot, but remained on his feet through the entire game, refusing to use a cane, crutch or rolling chair to get around.
"They say pain is temporary. It's not something that's going to last all the time. We have a job to do, and we're going to work through whatever challenges that we have..." Hamilton said of his injury.
"We're in the NCAA Tournament. My guys depend on me, so if I'm going to ask them to work hard and challenge themselves, I have to do the same thing to some degree. To be very honest with you, I didn't even know I had the boot on once the game started. It's a nuisance, it's a challenge, but there are more important things than worrying about me having a little pain."
Gray said that Hamilton didn't make any kind of deal out of his injury, walking into practice one day in the NCAA Tournament bubble with the boot on
Is it so hard to believe that FSU was taking cues, perhaps even channeling the toughness of its head coach in Saturday's game.
"He instills toughness in us. He doesn't like to complain about anything or let little things bother him. He's walking around like he's healthy, 100% even though how he's feeling," Gray said.
"He's going to show up every day and be the same coach and be a leader for us. That's how we feel. Showing up in a boot is extra motivation to go out there and play with something. That's our guy. He's our head coach and we all love him."
A shooting performance like the one FSU had Saturday would likely end its season in Monday's second-round matchup against No. 5 seed Colorado (23-8, 14-6 in Pac-12).
But the toughness and defensive effort it played with against UNCG paired with a likely regression towards the norm at the offensive end could make FSU a tough out.
Reach Curt Weiler at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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