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January 3, 2009

‘Noles close non-conference slate with rout

TALLAHASSEE - Finishing with a flurry, Florida State closed out the non-conference portion of its basketball season with a 69-48 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Saturday.

There would be no historic repeats for the Islanders from the Southland Conference, who authored a 70-67 upset of the Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center on Nov. 20, 2004.

As a result, the Seminoles will carry a 13-2 record into the Atlantic Coast Conference season, which opens at home against Duke on Jan. 10. The 13 non-conference victories equals a school record, established during the 1988-89 season which ended with an NCAA Tournament berth.

The lopsided outcome was not without blemishes.

Recovering from missing 13 of their first 15 shots to start the second half, as the Islanders cut a 12-point halftime deficit to six, the Seminoles closed the game on a 29-14 run. FSU converted 12 of its final 18 attempts from the floor and, for the second consecutive game, received scoring production from multiple sources.

Toney Douglas led the 'Noles with 17 points, but had only four in the closing run as Derwin Kitchen, Luke Loucks, Xavier Gibson, Solomon Alabi and Deividas Dulkys each made contributions.

"We hit a dry spell there where I thought we got the ball inside at point-blank range and had some wide-open jumpers, but we just couldn't get them to fall," Leonard Hamilton said of the early second half struggles. "I thought we elevated our defensive intensity during that period, continued to get stops and sooner or later we were able to get out and get some easy baskets and some offensive momentum."

TAMU-CC trimmed a 35-23 halftime deficit to 40-34 with 11:15 remaining on a Kevin Palmer jumper, but the 'Noles answered with a 7-0 surge. It began with Gibson's two-handed, dunk finish of a Loucks pass. Loucks added a reverse layup and Chris Singleton added a dunk and a free throw, pushing the 'Noles to a 47-34 lead - their largest to that point.

Palmer, who led the Islanders (6-8) with 21 points, whittled the deficit to 10 with a drive to the basket before FSU countered with a Kitchen-led 7-0 surge to put the game away.

Kitchen scored seven of the Seminoles next nine points and finished with 13 on the night to go with six rebounds and three assists. Dulkys added a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch; his second consecutive game with a pair of treys on the heels of an extended shooting slump.

"I believe we're moving in the right direction," Hamilton said. "The good thing about it is we're 13-2 and I feel like our best basketball is ahead of us."

It didn't hurt that the Seminoles used their final ACC tune-up to end a string of slow starts. FSU bolted to a 16-4 lead by the second media timeout en route to the wire-to-wire victory, enjoying a double-figure advantage most of the way.

Defensively, the 'Noles forced 21 turnovers by the Islanders and turned those into 21 points, many of the uncontested variety. FSU held a whopping 20-4 advantage in fast break points.

Freshman forward Chris Singleton offset a shaky offensive effort by leading the team with eight rebounds and five steals. Douglas and Loucks each contributed three steals to the cause. Freshman center Solomon Alabi accounted for five of FSU's 10 blocked shots.

"I think this could be one of the best defensive teams to come through Florida State," said Douglas. "We're going to have to be."

That's a given with the 'Noles about to embark on their 16-game league schedule, beginning with a Saturday visit from No. 5 Duke - one of five ACC teams currently in the AP poll and one of eight who have already banked 10 or more victories.

Talk about it on the Tribal Council or the Hoops Message Board.

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