TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Apparently a little taste of ACC play is just what Florida State and its struggling offense needed. Well, that and a six-point halftime deficit and the fear of starting out 0-1 in the ACC standings.
Down 34-28 at the half, the Seminoles scored 47 points in the second half to grab a 75-69 win over Clemson (5-4, 0-1 ACC) on Sunday night in what was the ACC opener for both teams. That's just three less points than the 'Noles scored in two halves the last time these two teams met when Clemson won 53-50 last season and it's actually three more than they scored in their 58-44 loss to No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 30.
"It's always good to score that many, especially for us," said FSU forward Chris Singleton, who scored 13 points and had three blocks. "It felt good … Hopefully it rolls over to the next game and the game after that."
Cutting down on turnovers was largely to credit for the offensive burst. The Seminoles (7-2, 1-0) tied a season-low with 14 turnovers and only six of those were committed in the pivotal second half.
In their last game seven days ago, the 'Noles racked up a season-high 26 turnovers in a 60-38 win over Hartford and head coach Leonard Hamilton made that gaudy number a point of emphasis in their practices this past week.
"I think the coaches did something that really helped in the game," said point guard Derwin Kitchen, who had just one turnover to go along with his nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "They made us run for every turnover in practice and I think it carried over into the game. We still had 14 (turnovers) but that is down from what we had."
Kitchen said the players had to run the length of the court nine times in 57 seconds for each of the 26 turnovers they committed.
Rest works wonders for FSU guard
The Seminole player who had the best game didn't even suit up in their last game.
Guard Deividas Dulkys could have played against Hartford, but with an injured finger on his shooting hand, Hamilton chose to rest his best 3-point shooter in hopes of getting him healthier for the more important matchup with Clemson.
Dulkys made the decision look pretty smart, scoring 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. The 6-foot-5 junior added five rebounds and three steals.
"I didn't like sitting on the bench and not helping my team," Dulkys said. "I just tried to do everything I can … It was a team effort. I was just feeling it."
Dulkys hit a number of key shots down the stretch, including a 3-pointer that put FSU up 62-61 with 3:36 remaining. They would never trail again and he went on to hit another 3-pointer and pull up for a 15-foot jumper. Both shots put FSU up by four points.
"He hit some clutch shots," said Singleton of Dulkys. "I'm glad he's on my team. He has confidence like no other. Everybody feels like if he has an open look we want him to shoot."
Dulkys missed all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half, but the players kept feeding him the ball in the second half.
"He's not bothered nearly as much by his misses," Hamilton said. "He's comfortable at this stage in his career. Sometimes that is the difference in a freshman and a junior."
Singleton: "Feels good to be on top right now"
For the next 27 days, the Seminoles will be at the top the league standings since their next ACC game isn't until a trip to Virginia Tech on Jan. 8, and although it's just a 1-0 start, don't think it doesn't matter to the players.
"First place or 12th place," said Singleton when asked what the difference is between starting out 1-0 and 0-1 in the ACC. "That is pretty much the difference. When we come back from Christmas break we'll get back into ACC play but it feels good to be on top right now."
Hamilton didn't downplay the importance of winning the ACC opener either.
"It's very important because you don't want to see yourself from a psychological standpoint sitting at the bottom of the standings for 20 days or so," Hamilton said. "Even though we got the rest of the season to play it does a lot to lift our spirits going into the remainder of our non-conference games. Now we know we aren't digging ourselves out of a hole."
There was speculation that 7-foot junior college transfer Jon Kreft would make his FSU debut but he didn't dress out again. But, the The Tallahassee Democrat reported that he "should be available later in the week."
FSU's bench outscored Clemson's 25-14. Big man Bernard James and Okaro White each had nine points, freshman guard Ian Miller had five. "I was especially pleased with our bench," Hamilton said. "Bernard had some big plays for us so did Okara and Terrance (Shannon). So did Luke Loucks (two assists) even though he didn't score."
FSU put the game away by sinking all six of their final free throw attempts in the last minute. Two were by guard Michael Snaer, two by Kitchen and two by Miller. "We were cool customers down there on the foul line," Hamilton said. "That not always the case. The camaraderie is developing and that put them in the right frame of mind and really helped them concentrate."
Clemson has now lost three straight and has yet to beat a team with winning record.
Boston College upset Maryland, 79-75, in the only other ACC game on Wednesday night. Wake Forest suffered a 81-69 loss to UNC-Wilmington.