February 26, 2008
TALLAHASSEE It takes only a quick glance at the statistics to realize that Florida State junior guard Toney Douglas was committed to becoming a better defender this season.
Though Douglas has labored in his earnest effort to become the point guard FSU coach Leonard Hamilton had envisioned, the veteran coach has high praise for Douglas' efforts at the opposite end of the floor.
"He's improved as much as a defensive player as he has any other part of his game," Hamilton said. "He has really concentrated on it. It means an awful lot to him, and it means an awful lot to our team, to take that responsibility.
"More than anything else, he's taken a lot of pride in defending. ... Playing the caliber of people he has to play every game, it's refreshing from a coaching standpoint."
Douglas was the ACC's runaway leader in steals through 28 games with 80 (42 in 13 ACC contests), but Hamilton said collecting steals isn't always the best barometer for good defense.
Hamilton's argument has merit, but a closer look at Douglas' performance against ACC players with similar skill sets scoring point guards Sean Singletary of Virginia and Tyrese Rice of Boston College provides a more clear understanding of how far he has come.
Douglas outplayed the two sure-fire All-ACC performers in head-to-head meetings this season, both times leading FSU to victory.
In the Seminoles' recent 66-63 home win over Rice and the Eagles, Douglas helped limit the ACC's second-leading scorer to 17 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Rice was held without a field goal in the second half of the game. Meanwhile, Douglas scored a game-high 20 points, was 4-of-5 from three-point range and had three steals.
Against Singletary and the Cavs, in a 69-67 home win, Douglas locked down Virginia's senior guard. Singletary was 4-of-11 from the floor (1-of-5 on threes), finished with 11 points and turned the ball over five times. Douglas picked Singletary clean as he attempted his crossover dribble in the waning seconds, then sank two free throws to seal the win. Beyond his defense, which included a career-high six steals for a third time this season, Douglas added 19 points.
"I'm getting a little bit better off the ball," said Douglas, who also credits extra time in the film room breaking down his assignments. "I've got a lot of steals on the ball, but off the ball I've been in the right position, anticipating, playing help-side defense."
Douglas' 80 steals on the season (2.86 per game) not only tie him for the fifth-best mark in FSU history 17 behind record-holder Sam Cassell, with a minimum four games to play but put him among an elite group in ACC single-season annals as well. Only six players Johnny Rhodes (Maryland), Dudley Bradley (UNC), Chris Corchiani (N.C. State), Muggsy Bogues (Wake Forest, twice) and Kenny Anderson (Georgia Tech) have posted better per-game averages.
"It comes back to instincts," Douglas said. "Only you can know if you can do it or not. (The coaches) won't get on me if I gamble once or twice, because they know who I am. They know I have good instincts, so they believe in me. I've just got to stay disciplined and know when to do it and when not to."
ROLE PLAYERS HELP FILL VOID
It didn't take long for Florida State to feel the impact of senior guard Isaiah Swann's likely season-ending knee injury against Miami.
Swann was the team's third-leading scorer and most productive three-point shooter, and his absence further burdened seniors Jason Rich and Ralph Mims, along with Douglas.
In the first three games without Swann, the Seminoles lost to Wake Forest and Maryland, before upsetting Clemson at home. FSU totaled 206 points in those games, with its most veteran trio accounting for 170 of those, which translates to just a hair under 83 percent of the offensive production.
There was little reason to believe the trio's supporting cast would offer much more when Boston College came to Tallahassee, especially with starting forward Uche Echefu mired in a horrid 4-of-16 shooting slump.
That made the composite contributions of starting forwards Ryan Reid and Echefu along with reserves Julian Vaughn, Matt Zitani and Jordan DeMercy even more significant in FSU's 66-63 win over the Eagles.
The quintet teamed for 26 points (on 12-of-23 shooting), 20 rebounds and plenty of hustle plays as the Seminoles registered consecutive victories for the first time in seven weeks.
"They all played with a certain level of confidence," Hamilton said. "It was a different body language that DeMercy and Zitani and Vaughn came out on the floor with. ... Those contributions obviously made the difference in the game."
Douglas, for one, was especially excited to see the Seminoles' role players step to the fore. Douglas led all scorers with 20 points and Mims added 14, but the outside contributions more than made amends for Rich's six-point output.
"Jordan got some hustle points and played some defense; Julian was hitting the boards and every time we got the ball to him he either got fouled or a layup," Douglas said. "They just (have to) play, have fun and good things will happen. They're doing that right now, and we're going to need that down the stretch for the rest of these games."
SEMINOLES BY THE NUMBERS
* Through 13 ACC games, there wasn't a single player on FSU's roster with more assists than turnovers. Mims was closest, with 21 helpers and 22 giveaways.
* Think defense doesn't matter? The Seminoles are 5-0 in the ACC when holding opponents under 70 points, and 0-8 when they don't.
* After going 1-3 at home in the first half of the league schedule, FSU was 2-1 in the second half, with a visit from Miami remaining.
* The Seminoles are the only ACC team with three 1,000-point scorers (Douglas, Rich, Swann) on their roster. Mims won't reach the milestone, but with 307 points this season (11.0 per game) he likely will eclipse his previous three-year total of 366.
* Don't be surprised if Swann makes an appearance on Senior Night against Miami, despite a torn ACL. He has been working out rigorously in an attempt to strengthen his leg muscles and has been seen "fooling around" on the floor during practice.