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February 5, 2014

FSU shuffles lineup, gets back on the winning track vs. VaTech

With a three-game losing streak and leading scorer Ian Miller out with an injury, Florida State needed to make adjustments. A shuffle to the starting lineup helped spark the Seminoles' 70-50 win against visiting Virginia Tech on Wednesday.

FSU used a starting lineup of Michael Ojo, Robert Gilchrist, Montay Brandon, Okaro White and Aaron Thomas for the first time this season in the win.

"Right now it's obvious that we're not going to be able to stay status quo," FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We're going to have to make some adjustments as we prepare to move through the remainder of the season."

It was just the second start this season for Thomas and the first career start for Ojo, and signaled a shift for FSU (14-8, 5-5) to a more defensive-minded roster with the absence of leading scorer Ian Miller, who sat out Wednesday's game with an ankle sprain.

Thomas responded in a big way, pouring in 24 points including three straight three-pointers midway through the second half to give FSU a commanding lead. Thomas shot 7-14 from the floor and 6-8 from three-point range.

"Once I started coach told me to be aggressive on both ends," Thomas said. "And I feel like I did a good job of that."

FSU sat Devon Bookert and Boris Bojanovsky, who had started every game so far this season, but both of whom had struggled at times defensively. Instead, Leonard Hamilton chose his best defensive lineup and hoped it could score enough to win.

"Our game plan was to put our most aggressive, most physical players on the floor at the start of the game and give us a little more energy," Hamilton said. "I thought we had tremendous energy on the defensive end." The shift to a more defensive-minded approach paid off. FSU held VaTech to just 20 points in the first half and 50 for the game. The Hokies shot just 35 percent for the game.

It was a much-needed revival for FSU's defense after allowing three of its past four opponents to shoot better than 40 percent from the floor heading into the game and had lost three straight.

"By no means have we arrived," Hamilton said. "But I thought it was better tonight."

FSU was able to rebound more effectively with White playing most of the game at small forward. White hauled in nine rebounds and FSU, which had been outrebounded consistently in its past five games, held even, 32-32, on the boards.

Coming off the bench appeared to light a fire under Bookert and Bojanovsky as well. The pair combined for 15 points and 11 rebounds on the game, and Hamilton praised Bookert's aggressiveness in hauling in eight rebounds as a guard.

FSU got a lift going in to halftime with a rare five-point possession. Montay Brandon drained a three-pointer with 2:34 left in the first period, and a defensive foul on Jarquez Smith gave FSU two free throws and two points. That play turned a close game into a double-digit FSU lead and gave the Seminoles momentum heading into halftime.

"That was a big play," White said. "And we sustained our effort in the second half."

The defensive improvement helped FSU keep Virginia Tech down late in the game. When the Hokies threatened to close to within single digits in the final 6 minutes, FSU game up with three consecutive stops and built the lead back to 16 points with four minutes to play, too much of a margin for the Hokies to overcome.

White added 15 points. Marquez White, a dual-sport athlete who also played football, made his debut in the final minute and hit a three-pointer.

More than anything else, FSU was just happy to break its three-game losing streak heading into the final stretch of ACC play.

"It sure feels a lot better," Hamilton said. "No doubt about that."



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