No. 11 FSU overcomes sluggish start to roll to ninth win of season
The big story heading into Monday night's game with Southeast Missouri State was the return of senior forward Phil Cofer.
But it was the return of another Seminole -- the youngest one in fact -- that proved to be the real difference for the No. 11 Florida State basketball team.
True freshman Devin Vassell, who sat out the UConn game with a minor injury, scored 16 points in a career-high 19 minutes Monday to help spark the Seminoles to an 85-68 win over the Redhawks (5-7) at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Florida State trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half and was down by six in the second half at one point before going on a 31-7 run.
Both Vassell and junior point guard Trent Forrest (23 points) notched career-highs on Monday night as the Seminoles improved to 9-1 on the season. Forrest was a plus-24 in his 34 minutes of action, and Vassell was a plus-25 in his 19 minutes on the court.
Graduate transfer David Nichols added 13 points off the bench for FSU, which plays again on Wednesday night against North Florida.
"Devin is just always in the right spot at the right time," Nichols said of Vassell. "I don't know how he does it. You look away. He subs in -- Devin Vassell, two points ... Devin Vassell, rebound -- he's just always in the right spot at the right time. It's just because he works so hard. He's always asking questions in practice. Always asking coaches what he can do to improve and it just shows."
It certainly did on Monday night as the Suwanee, Ga., native was 5-of-7 from the floor (2-of-3 from 3-point range) and 4-of-6 from the free-throw line. He also had four rebounds, a steal and an assist.
And all made shots were critical for a Florida State team that had trouble connecting on anything outside of three feet in the first 30 minutes.
"Tonight was one of those nights where it seemed like we got great shots," Hamilton said.
And they just weren't going in.
The Seminoles continually got open outside looks and continually missed -- with most of the shots rimming out. Florida State was just 1-of-12 from 3 in the first half and finished the game 7-of-26. Southeast Missouri State was 14-of-37 from deep.
"They're going to win a lot of games in their conference," Hamilton said of the Redhawks. "I'm going to enjoy watching them. I didn't enjoy watching them tonight. ... But the unique thing about our team is that I think we have enough parts that we can find someone who is capable of stepping up and being productive. And I think that's what happened tonight."
With the game still in doubt midway through the second half, the lineup of Forrest-Nichols-Vassell-Terance Mann-Christ Koumadje put the game away with an emphatic run.
Vassell sparked it with a transition layup and a corner 3.
"He brings a lot of energy, a lot of athleticism," said Forrest, who also had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. "He can knock down shots. All along, I kind of knew he had that in him, and tonight was his night."
It was not Cofer's night as it turned out, but his performance on the court (0-for-4 from the floor in five minutes) wasn't nearly as important as it was just to get him out there again.
The leading scorer from last year's Elite Eight team was seeing his first action of the season after breaking his foot in preseason practice. He didn't play in the second half, but that was by design.
Cofer received a mostly standing ovation when he checked into the game at the 17:18 mark of the first half.
"We just didn't want to push him," Hamilton said of Cofer. "I'm not going to shove him out there. Even though the game is on the line, I would have loved to have him out there. I thought last year we might have pushed Koumadje a little too quick. He developed some tendinitis that bothered him the rest of the year.
"And I didn't want to chance it (with Cofer)."
Sophomore M.J. Walker sat out Monday's win with a sprained ankle. The way Hamilton talked after the game, it didn't appear to be a serious injury. And thanks in part to the way Vassell played off the bench, Walker's absence was not a problem.
"He's a cool customer," Hamilton said of the 6-foot-6 freshman. "He doesn't get rattled. ... He's a youngster that I think we're going to enjoy watching as he grows."