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SUNRISE, FL -- With its most efficient and balanced offensive performance of the season and a lock-down defensive effort by Jordan DeMercy, Leonard Hamilton's Florida State basketball team closed the 2008 portion of the season with another key non-conference victory.
Toney Douglas scored 27 points to lead four double-figure scorers as the Seminoles (12-2) parlayed a 23-3 second half run into an 82-69 victory over Western Kentucky in Sunday's Orange Bowl Classic opener Sunday at the Bank Atlantic Center.
"That was probably the best basketball we played all year," said DeMercy, who shut down Hilltopper shooting guard Omar Mendez-Valdez during the Seminoles' game-clinching surge.
Valdez (25 points) knocked down six 3-pointers to keep the Hilltoppers (7-4) in the hunt until Hamilton assigned DeMercy the task of shutting down the diminutive long-range specialist. Valdez did manage a tournament-record seventh 3-pointer, but it came with less than a minute to play and the 'Noles leading by 15.
Mendez-Valdez's sixth 3-pointer gave Western Kentucky a 51-46 lead with 12:13 remaining. The Seminoles used the media timeout at 11:48 to regroup and scored the next 11 points.
Freshman Chris Singleton, who was scratched from the starting lineup by Hamilton for an undisclosed reason, keyed the decisive run. A Douglas runner pulled the 'Noles within 51-48 before Singleton came up with a steal, then rammed home a follow dunk to cut the deficit to one.
Singleton, who scored a career-high 18 points to go with six rebounds and three blocks, rejected WKU's Jeremy Evans on the defensive end on the ensuing possession. His 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10:45 to play gave FSU a 53-51 lead they would not relinquish.
"I'm really fine coming off the bench," said Singleton, who didn't offer a reason for his benching. "I feel like I can score more and do more for this team. I'm an energy player and when the other teams are getting tired I feel like I can give a spark running up and down the court."
Hamilton dismissed the notion that the McDonald's All-American might become a sixth-man option.
"I'm not real sure he'll be doing much of that," Hamilton said.
Any doubt about the outcome was decided when first-year Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald was slapped with consecutive technical fouls and ejected. Douglas converted three of four free throws for a 69-56 lead with 4:29 remaining and the Hilltoppers never got closer than eight down the stretch.
Derwin Kitchen and Ryan Reid added 11 points each, while Deividas Dulkys contributed eight in his first action since suffering hamstring and groin strains following the Dec. 7 Florida game.
Perhaps more important than the balanced scoring was Hamilton's decision to go with a smaller lineup, which shared the basketball to the tune of 19 assists, while committing just nine turnovers.
Luke Loucks, who started in place of Singleton, and Douglas handed out five assists each, while DeMercy added four and Singleton three.
"We had a lot of guys step up and show poise," said Hamilton. "It was really one of our better games against a team that presented us problems with their defensive pressure."
Western Kentucky bolted to a 16-4 lead from the start as the 'Noles committed five turnovers in the first five minutes of the game.
FSU rallied to a 37-34 lead at the half after Douglas and Dulkys combined for three consecutive 3-pointers - a run that put the 'Noles in front for the first time.