FSU looks to gain confidence, get back on track

Florida State has put itself in a good position early in games. But the Seminoles have not been able to sustain that consistency in the second half.

FSU led at Florida (30-28), vs. Syracuse (32-24) and against South Carolina (36-30) at Rock Hill. Each of those games saw shortcomings after halftime, resulting in losses that have led to FSU’s sluggish 5-4 start to the 2021-22 season.

“We obviously are playing well enough in the first half to have the lead but we’re not sustaining it for the whole 40 minutes,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s what makes college basketball so interesting. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We’ve been pretty good in the first half. We don’t lose our abilities at halftime.”

FSU hasn’t lost its abilities after halftime but the ball isn’t going in the basket consistently either. The Seminoles shot just 33 percent in the second half at Florida, 28.1 percent vs. Syracuse and 31.8 percent against South Carolina. In the second half, Florida shot 43.3 percent and, surprisingly, the Orange and Gamecocks each shot 50 percent. The Seminoles could shoot better in the second half, but the defense has been a letdown at times, too.

In games against Syracuse and South Carolina, FSU was arguably a shot, rebound or turnover away from securing a win. But in both games, leads slipped away. In each game, it’s a combination of FSU’s shortcomings coupled with an opponent getting hot but also grabbing more rebounds — FSU was -11 against Florida and -7 on the boards against South Carolina, while the Orange had 13 offensive boards.

Hamilton admitted there’s evident growing pains: “There’s no question that there’s a lot of apprehensiveness. There’s a lot of indecision.”

FSU gets a bit of a break in the schedule with Lipscomb on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ACC Network) and a chance to build confidence, especially in the half-court offense. The Seminoles are projected to easily handle Lipscomb, rated No. 254 in Division I by KenPom.com. There are other opportunities in the coming weeks for the Seminoles with UCF (rated 56th) in a neutral site game at Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday as well as a game against North Florida next week.

One of the issues for the Seminoles has been injuries. FSU has not had center Tanor Ngom for five of nine games, while forward Cam’Ron Fletcher is playing through a broken bone in his face (while wearing a clear shield).

Fletcher’s minutes have been limited. There is no timeline for Ngom to return to the court, which means FSU will likely try to get Naheem McLeod more minutes.

“We will probably take a look at it sometime in January,” Hamilton said of Ngom. “But as of right now, he’s in the healing process.”

One positive has been increased minutes for junior college transfer Naheem McLeod, a center who can step in and help in the low post. McLeod played nine minutes against South Carolina, scoring three points and pulling down four rebounds with a block.

While McLeod also battled injuries, he has averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds. He runs the court well and has an ease rising to the basket on alley oops. McLeod isn’t aggressive enough on the boards but does present an option to help forward Malik Osborne, who is often the tallest player on the court for FSU.

Hamilton sees promise in McLeod.

“He has the potential to be as effective as some of our big men that we’ve had in the past,” Hamilton said. “Our post guys have been so instrumental in everything that we’ve done, and that’s probably where we have the least amount of experience with he and Quincy (Ballard). We’ve been forced to play Malik at that position, but we all know he’s a jump-shooting 4 (power forward). He’s has not been an interior threat on our team. 

“It’s clearly obvious that he (McLeod) has good hands. He’s athletic, potentially to be a shot blocker. Has good touch around the free throw line, really is a pretty good dribbler. He just needs time. The cake’s still in the oven.”