Vassell, ‘Noles overwhelm Chattanooga

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Leonard Hamilton was worried about how Florida State would play without two starters. As Wednesday’s game developed, the veteran coach had no reason to be concerned.

Devin Vassell scored 17 points and pulled down a career-high eight rebounds while Patrick Williams added 16 points as FSU cruised to an 89-53 rout of Chattanooga on Wednesday, the Seminoles’ largest margin of victory in more than two years.

Ole Miss graduate transfer Dominik Olejniczak scored his first points at FSU (3-1), going 5 for 6 from the floor with 10 points and three rebounds. The Seminoles shot 34 of 65 (52.3 percent) from the floor without forward RaiQuan Gray and guard M.J. Walker.

“I went into this game anxious because we were without two of our more experienced players,” Hamilton said. “I thought our guys really responded well. We had high-percentage shots, which gave some of our big guys a little bit more room to go to the offensive boards. It was tremendously challenging for Chattanooga to defend us because the ball moved so well.”

Hamilton frequently says that his team is about the “sum of its parts,” and Wednesday was a good example. Five Seminoles scored in double figures, 12 had at least one point and 15 players saw time on the court.

Freshman center Balsa Koprivica added 10 points and seven rebounds, while Rice transfer forward Malik Osborne scored 10 points and pulled down three rebounds. The Seminoles’ height and length translated into a 41-30 rebound edge.

“Balsa has gone from extremely anxious and nervous in the beginning of the year to playing with a lot more confidence,” Hamilton said. “He’s becoming more of an instinctive player as he’s learning.”

Florida State’s 36-point margin of victory was the biggest for the program since the Seminoles routed Clemson 109-61 on Feb. 5, 2017.

David Jean-Baptiste had 15 points for Chattanooga (3-2). Rod Johnson had 11 points and six rebounds for the Mocs, who shot 23 of 59 (39%).

Florida State also took away a Chattanooga strength – the 3-pointer. The Mocs made just 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) of their shots from beyond the arc.

“In the scouting report, there was a lot of talk about their 3s,” Vassell said. “That was probably the key to the game, not let them get as many 3s and contain the dribble. We were able to get some stops and get transition points.”

Even without Gray and Walker, Florida State was overwhelming. Olejniczak’s layup with 9:19 to halftime put Florida State ahead 28-17 and the Seminoles led by double figures the rest of the way.

“They are physically strong and athletic and long,” Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris coach. “It’s length that we haven’t gone against as much this year.”

Tuck Talking point 1: Williams shot 6 of 10 from the floor and the freshman forward was able to play 20 high-energy minutes off the bench. “He’s giving tremendous effort,” Hamilton said. “I very well could have started him. But I see something special in him. And I don’t want to put him in a situation where he feels a lot of pressure. I want him to have a natural maturation. His minutes are going to increase. He didn’t have any wasted minutes.”

Tuck Talking point 2: FSU made 52 percent of its shots with a pair of starters – Wyatt Wilkes and Anthony Polite – who were making their first college starts. Wilkes had five points and two rebounds before leaving late with a shoulder injury. Polite had one point and two rebounds.

Welcome return from injury: Junior college transfer point guard RayQuan Evans scored his first four points, all from the free-throw line, and played 13 minutes for the Seminoles.

Injury update: Hamilton said Gray and Walker are still unable to play due to injuries. He said they were doubtful for Saturday’s game.

Up next: Florida State plays host to Saint Francis, Pa., on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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