Chris Singleton lost his starting job. For one game anyway.
Leonard Hamilton sat the talented freshman due to a violation of team rules. Singleton responded with a career high 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocked shots, and 2 assists.
In fact, it was Singleton who made four tremendous plays in a matter of seconds that gave FSU the lead for good, helping the Noles come from behind to beat a tough Western Kentucky team 82-69.
Trailing 51-48, Singleton picked off a pass to the right wing and immediately got the ball to Toney Douglas for a fast break lay up. A Hilltopper defender was able to change Douglas’ shot enough causing him to miss. Singleton however did not give up on the play and slammed in the offensive rebound.
On the other end the freshman wing swatted away a shot and then hustled down the court again to set up for a three from the right corner to give FSU a lead they would not relinquish, 53-51 with 10:42 to play.
The Hilltoppers who were a Sweet Sixteen team last season made it hard for FSU though. The Noles were immediately on their heels with the extended pressure defense of WKU, giving the ball away six times in the first eight minutes.
A wide open three pointer from Orlando Mendez-Valdez put FSU down 16-4 at the 11:57 mark forcing Hamilton to call timeout.
The Seminole starting group of Douglas, Jordan DeMercy, Luke Loucks, Ryan Reid, and Solomon Alabi had difficulty dealing with the smallish and quick lineup of the Hilltoppers on defense. The offense struggled greatly as well.
But once Hamilton inserted a three guard lineup of Douglas, Kitchen, Loucks, with Singleton in the center spot, and Uche Echefu, the offense found its rhythm. Ball handling improved dramatically as well as FSU did not turn the ball over the rest of the half but defensively forced 7 turnovers by Western Kentucky.
Forty seconds later, Singleton’s three ball and two free throws brought FSU all the way back to tie the game at 26 apiece with 4:40 left in the half.
Deividas Dulkys playing in his first game after sitting out several with a groin and hamstring injury provided a spark on offense, nailing two back-to-back threes from the same spot in the left corner to give FSU a 35-29 advantage.
Mendez-Valdez tightened it up with a three pointer in transition to make it 37-34 at the half.
FSU started the second half with the same starting lineup and saw the same problems as the first half with the taller lineup unable to handle the intensity of the Hilltoppers.
Mendez-Valdez, who finished with a team high 25 points that included 7 of 9 from behind the arc, hit yet another three ball giving Western a 45-41 lead. Loucks’ three from the left corner and Douglas’s driving layup gave FSU the lead back at 46-45.
A wide open three from Anthony Sally from the left wing followed by a Mendez-Valdez three despite a hand in his face by Douglas gave Western Kentucky its last lead at 51-46.
A floater from Douglas set up the flurry from Singleton.
The closest Hilltoppers would get the rest of the way was 57-54.
The deeper Seminoles, who were able to throw more players at Western, finally wore them down. Shots that were going down earlier started bricking off the iron.
A quick 9-0 run punctuated by Singleton crashing down the lane for a highlight slam dunk offensive put back gave FSU a 66-54 lead with 5:07 to play.
A short time later Western’s first year head coach Ken McDonald was ejected after picking up two technicals for beefing a foul called on Mendez-Valdez for undercutting Singleton. Douglas made three of four from the line giving FSU a 69-56 margin.
Western did its best to get back into the game closing it to 72-65 with 2:08 left. But FSU was too strong on defense allowing only one more basket by the Hilltoppers.
Leading the way for the ‘Noles was Douglas with 27 points, who along with Singleton got scoring help this time from Reid and Kitchen who each added 11 points.
Particularly pleasing to Hamilton was FSU’s assist to turnover ratio. At one point in the game FSU had six miscues to none for Western. With its three guard lineup FSU turned that completely around, finishing the game with a season low 9 turnovers against 19 assists. Meanwhile the Hilltoppers were forced into 15 turnovers on the strength of 11 steals by FSU.
A.J. Slaughter was the only other Hilltopper in double figures with 14 points.
Hamilton said afterwards “we re-grouped” after the horrendous start by the ‘Noles, acknowledging the offensive spark provided by Dulkys and Kitchen.
“They took advantage of us early in the game,” Hamilton said. “We had a lot of indecision and their pressure defense took us out of our sets. They came out more aggressive and took the fight right to us,” he added.
With the win FSU improves to 12-2 on the season, which also greatly pleased Hamilton, especially in how the Seminoles have won games.
“While we would like to win every game by 25 points we probably learned more about ourselves by fighting and scratching for wins like this,” Hamilton said.
The Seminoles will have a week to prepare for its last out of conference game. The ‘Noles will host Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Saturday. Tip off is set for 2:00 PM and is scheduled to be televised on Sun Sports.