Okaro White (right) and Florida State put the clamps on VCU's offense en route to an upset win. (Ricardo Arduengo/AP)
Florida State unleashed its own brand of havoc on VCU in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament on Thursday, cruising to an 85-67 victory over the No. 10-ranked team in the country. The Seminoles got 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists from Ian Miller and 14 points and 11 boards from Montay Brandon. Devon Bookert added 18 points of his own.
While the Rams forced 25 turnovers, the 'Noles shot a blistering 53.7 percent from the field. Conversely, VCU shot 29.3 percent and went just 5-for-23 from three-point range. It was a rough night for Treveon Graham, as the junior guard missed nine of his 13 field goal attempts. Juvonte Reddic struggled as well, scoring eight points and pulling down only two rebounds.
VCU will bounce back just fine from this loss. The real takeaway here is that Florida State looks set to compete in the deeper-than-ever ACC. North Carolina has faltered early this year, and Syracuse squeaked out a win over St. Francis earlier this week, but this remains a premier conference with at least one elite team and a deep set of schools aiming for the NCAA tournament. After a bit of a down season in 2012-13, coach Leonard Hamilton has the Seminoles doing what made them such a dangerous squad two years ago, namely playing suffocating defense, dominating the glass and executing efficient transition offense. They'll get another shot at a big win when they take on No. 14 Michigan in the tournament's semifinals.
Elsewhere on Thursday, UAB was mere seconds from pulling a huge upset over New Mexico and getting a resume-building win early in the season on two separate occasions in the first round of the Charleston Classic. Instead, the Blazers head back to Birmingham having let a great opportunity slip through their help-side defense.
New Mexico's Kendall Williams made a buzzer-beating three at the end of regulation to force overtime, and Alex Kirk, who had missed all four of his three-point attempts up to that point, pulled the same trick to force a second extra period. Kirk, especially, was wide open after a failed rotation by the UAB defense. The 19th-ranked Lobos didn’t trail the rest of the game and finished off UAB, 97-94.
Despite the late-game heroics from Williams -- who put up 29 points, 10 assists and six rebounds -- and Kirk, New Mexico struggled from deep for the second time in three games this year. The Lobos were just 8-for-38 from behind the arc, and are shooting 30.4 percent from three-point land on the season. That will be something to watch as their opponents get tougher. Rod Rucker went off for 18 points and 20 rebounds in a losing effort for UAB.
Another upset came nice and early in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament, where Northeastern upended Georgetown, 63-56. It was a terrible day all around for the Hoyas, who shot 36 percent from the floor and had nearly as many turnovers (15) as made field goals (18). Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera combined to go 7-for-29, including 2-for-12 from three.
Josh Smith had nine points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, and both his time on the court and activity on the glass will be something to watch early in the season. Georgetown has been outrebounded in both of its losses this year, with the 6-foot-10 Smith grabbing just four boards in 27 minutes against Oregon. If they’re going to compete in the revamped Big East, let alone hang with Marquette and Creighton, they’ll need Smith to be a much more effective rebounder than he has been in the early going. The Northeastern frontcourt of Reggie Spencer and Scott Eatherton combined for 30 points and 19 rebounds.
Kansas State’s 68-61 loss to Charlotte in the first round down in Puerto Rico put on display why the Wildcats could struggle in the Big 12 and be on the outside of the Big Dance come March. Bruce Weber’s squad shot 37.3 percent from the floor and just 19.2 percent (5-for-26) from beyond the arc. They also missed seven free throws, though five of those belonged to guard Shane Southwell, who had an all-around miserable night, making four of his 14 FGAs. While the Wildcats held the 49ers-0">49ers to 39.3-percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, they were -12 in rebounding margin. This team’s calling card is defense and rebounding. It will need to pick up the latter and find some reliable scoring if it has any chance to make some noise this year.
Mike Thorne Jr.