Florida State men's basketball loses to Florida, starts season 0-4 for first time in 63 years

Carter Karels
Tallahassee Democrat
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Not even a rivalry game and a 19-point lead could inspire the Florida State men’s basketball team to finally capture a win.

The Seminoles (0-4) collapsed in epic fashion in their 76-67 loss to nemesis Florida (3-1) on Friday, which came before a crowd of 9,182 in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

Not since the 1959-60 season has FSU started winless through its first four games. The Seminoles broke that 63-year streak after blowing a sizable advantage that was as large as 43-24 late in the first half. They surrendered a 33-5 run to open the second half.

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“You’ve got to give Florida credit for going out and doing what they had to do in the second half to put themselves in a position to win,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. It’s not easy going on the road, being down 17 at half and coming back and trying to figure out a way to win.”

Guard Caleb Mills led the Seminoles with 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting, but he committed a game-high six turnovers. FSU guards Matthew Cleveland (14) and Darin Green Jr. (14) also reached double figures in scoring. 

Below are three takeaways from the Seminole loss.

Tale of two halves

FSU played nearly perfect through the first two minutes, boasting a 43-26 lead heading into halftime.

But the second half for the Seminoles could not have been much worse.

From effort to defense to shooting to rebounding, FSU initially looked much better in practically every way compared to its first three games. Green (12 points on 4-of-5 shooting) and Cleveland (10 points, six rebounds) helped the Seminoles have their second-highest scoring output in a half this season.

They went 3 of 6 (50%) from beyond the arc and 15 of 31 (48.4%) overall.

Florida shot just 8 of 29 (27.6%) from the floor and 1 of 12 (8.3%) from three-point range. The Gators even went without a field goal for 9:18, going 0 of 12 during that stretch. They started 0 of 8 from beyond the arc and 3 of 20 (15%) overall.

“We played on our heels,” Florida coach Todd Golden said. “I didn’t think we were aggressive enough. We weren’t shot-ready when we got penetration kickouts in the first half. They blocked a couple of our threes. 

“We just didn’t have a punch to us, and that was disappointing.”

After halftime, the roles reversed.

The Gators cranked up the pressure in the second half, forcing 11 turnovers. FSU started the half 2 of 10 (20%) from the field and 0 of 3 from three-point range before finishing 10 of 30 (30%) and 0 of 10, respectively. 

For the first time since holding a 3-2 advantage in the first couple minutes of the game, Florida reclaimed the lead, at 47-46, with 13:40 remaining. The Gators found a rhythm offensively in the second half, shooting 16 of 31 (51.6%) from the floor.

“We normally make 230 passes a game. I would be surprised if we made 75 in the second half,” Hamilton said. “It’s not as much the dribbling as it is somebody being a good receiver. We are not moving enough to make ourselves available for catches to reverse the ball.”

Colin Castleton continues impressive stretch

Star forward Colin Castleton played a major role in Florida's furious comeback.

The fifth-year senior tallied 19 of his 25 points in the second half. Castleton shot 9 of 14 on the game and went 7 of 10 from the free throw line. He also added nine rebounds and a block.

“It’s hard to keep a great player from doing anything,” Hamilton said. “But I think we made it easy for him by giving them so many baskets off turnovers. If we didn’t give up those turnover baskets, and he went ahead and got his points like he normally does, we probably would have been in a different situation.”

Castleton had been borderline unstoppable to start the season, averaging 25.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and four blocks through his first three games. He dominated in a 71-55 victory over the Seminoles last season, recording 16 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks.

But Castleton started relatively slow in the first half of this game, totaling only six points on 2-of-4 shooting. Golden said the Gators made a concerted effort to feed Castleton the ball more in the second half.

“I don’t think we did a good enough job as a staff finding opportunities for him to get catches,” Golden said. “That hasn’t been an issue for us all year, so we didn’t really emphasize it before the game. 

“But Florida State plays a defensive style that is tricky, and it is not something that we have seen a lot. So it took us a little bit to get comfortable.

“That is the luxury of having such a great player. He might not get enough touches in the first half, but he stays with it and then he delivers as he did. He was obviously a huge part as to why we were able to win.”

Florida State men's basketball players huddle up ahead of Friday's game against rival Florida.

Naheem McLeod, Chandler Jackson and De’Ante Green return to the floor

FSU has been without as many as six scholarship players in a game this season.

After bringing back three of those players against the Gators, the Seminoles may have found a silver lining from this game.

Center Naheem McLeod (ankle), guard Chandler Jackson (thumb) and forward De’Ante Green (knee) returned from injuries. Forwards Jaylan Gainey (season-ending knee injury) and Baba Miller (16-game suspension), and guard Jeremiah Bembry (undisclosed injury) remained out for various reasons.

McLeod (11), Jackson (two) and Green (one) received limited action. But they are expected to be more involved as they work their way back. 

“From a coaching staff standpoint, I’ve got to get a better handle on how to rotate and utilize guys who have not played at all,” Hamilton said. “So it’s a little bit of a challenge for us, as well as our players now as we try to integrate guys who have not played at all back into our system.”

To effectively play Hamilton’s physically demanding style, FSU desperately needs a deeper rotation. 

Five players – guards Cleveland (35), Darin Green Jr. (33) and Mills (32), and forwards Cameron Corhen (29) and Cam’Ron Fletcher (28) – saw an overwhelming majority of the minutes against Florida.

“Some people can do that. That is not how our program is built,” Hamilton said. “We like for people to play four minutes, four and a half, sometimes five and be able to take a blow and someone else come in and give the same level of effort. We have not been able to do that, so we’ve got to get our rhythm back now. 

“We hopefully, not before too long, will be back in sync playing the way we want to play.”

Up next

FSU will next host Mercer (1-2) at 6:30 p.m. Monday (TV: ACC Network). The Bears will have a quick turnaround after playing Winthrop at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Reach Carter Karels at ckarels@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).

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