Brandon leads FSU past Central Florida 96-73
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State had been shooting so poorly in recent games that coach Leonard Hamilton was anxious to see how his team would perform Saturday as it closed out a four-game homestand.
Turned out, not much to worry about as the Seminoles (4-4) evened their record just in time for exams.
''It's always nice to get a victory, especially as you go into finals,'' Hamilton said after the Seminoles took a 96-73 win over Central Florida. ''We're not as bad a 3-point shooting team as we seem to be now.''
Florida State was coming off a 70-65 home loss earlier in the week to Nebraska in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, unsuccessfully rallying back from an early 18-point deficit to fall short.
The Seminoles came into the game shooting just 19.8 percent from long distance and pretty much ignored anything from 3-point range early, throwing up just one attempt behind the arc before the half.
Instead, they relied on veterans Montay Brandon and Aaron Thomas, who both love to drive to the basket. Brandon scored a career-high 23 points and Thomas added 22 as the Seminoles rolled.
''Having Aaron back obviously makes a big difference for our team,'' Hamilton said. Thomas, the Seminoles' top scorer a year ago, missed two full games and most of a third after suffering dizzy spells. He was cleared by doctors earlier this week to return to action.
And Thomas' presence helped Brandon, who has spent a lot more time this season working inside than out on the perimeter.
''He's playing totally within himself,'' Hamilton said. ''He's, `Let me see what my team needs' and then tries to give it to them.''
Brandon hit 10 of 12 field-goal tries and also led the Seminoles with six rebounds. Thomas knocked down 10 of his 17 shots as Florida State finished with a 62.1 shooting percentage.
But, as UCF coach Donnie Jones noted, the big difference in many ways was the play of Florida State's big guys, who combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds.
''Those guys were dominant,'' Jones said. ''Their length and depth really was hard on us.''
Florida State 6-foot-9 sophomore Jarquez Smith scored a career-high 16 points and 7-foot Kiel Turpin added 10, all in the first half. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who averaged 20.1 points over the last four games, was held scoreless Saturday. Two other 7-footers, Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky, combined for another nine points and seven rebounds.
Dayshawn Watkins, who has picked up playing minutes in the absence of injured point guard Devon Bookert, dished out a game-high six assists for the Seminoles.
UCF also got good play from a quartet of guards.
Brandon Goodwin led UCF (5-2) with 16 points, making six of his eight shots. B.J. Taylor and Adonys Henriquez each added 14 while Daiquan Walker finished with 12.
Florida State took control of the game early and led by as many as 13 in the opening half and held a 47-37 at the break. Its biggest lead came with 4:17 left at 87-62.
The Seminoles had a 42-25 rebound advantage.
Florida State went inside for most of the opening half against the smaller Knights, converting on 21 of 28 field-goals tries for a sizzling 75 percent while also enjoying a 19-8 advantage in rebounds.
Thomas' spinning layup with 4:20 left in the half capped an 11-0 run that gave the Seminoles their largest lead of the opening half at 39-26. The 6-4 junior had 13 points by halftime while Brandon chipped in with 11 and Turpin 10 by the break.
UCF's last lead came at 10-9 on Goodwin's layup.
Jones was disappointed that Florida State got away comparatively easy in the second half, doubling its 10-point halftime lead less than eight minutes into the second half at 68-48.
''I just want our guys to play the right way,'' he said. ''The biggest thing for our team is process.''
Central Florida: The Knights were playing their first game of the season away from home. Their only previous loss was to Davidson on Nov. 26.
Florida State: The Seminoles closed out a four-game home stand with a 3-1 mark and now head to Notre Dame in search of their first road victory of the season.
Florida State has won all 11 games between the schools. ... Florida State entered the game shooting just 19.8 percent from 3-point distance and 65.5 percent at the free-throw line. Their leading scorer on the season, Xavier Rathan-Mayes did not score against UCF.
UCF's leading scorers on the season are freshmen B.J. Taylor, 12.8 points per game, and Adonys Henriquez (11.7 ppg).
UCF's Taylor suffered an ankle injury late in the second half and coach Donnie Jones said afterward he's concerned he may miss a few games. ... Veteran Florida State point guard Devon Bookert missed his fifth straight game with a foot injury. Coach Leonard Hamilton hopes to have him back in time for next Saturday's ACC opener at Notre Dame.
UCF visits Illinois-Chicago on Thursday.
Florida State visits Notre Dame on Saturday.