Last night was frustrating for Florida State basketball fans. As the team squared of with 26-6 Louisiana Tech in the first round of the NIT, Seminoles fans bore witness to their team succumbing to a full court press while their beloved senior captain was ushered out of the Tucker Center one final time with a loss.
But there were moments to hang on to once the disappointment fades.
The team had nine blocks, including seven in the first half. They played extremely good defense all evening. And perhaps most intriguingly, Montay Brandon seemed to remember he was 6-7 220 with excellent ball skills and started to drive to the hoop like it and throw down hard.
Brandon finished the night with ten points, but what was eye catching, bordering on completely frustrating for the FSU faithful were the two monster dunks he threw down in the second half.
Almost like, 'where has that been all year?'
"Unfortunately you would like for those guys to unpack their bags, put their shoes on and take a maturity pill and all the sudden manifest themselves into solid, fundamental players making great decisions," joked Leonard Hamilton after the loss. "I thought Montay showed some glimpses of what he’s capable of doing [on Tuesday night]."
That was never more visible than on the two dunks.
His first was a Sportscenter-worthy kind of throwdown– had it not come in the NIT.
His second coming with just 40 seconds remaining, down five, drew a foul and ended with another emphatic finish. Brandon then showed some of his youth by missing the plus-one on the back end, but the athleticism to split the defense and penetrate to the hoop when the Seminoles needed it– and the aggression to finish strong– was eye-opening.
"You've see Montay go through the growing pains and the last three weeks you’ve seen him play extremely aggressive," said Hamilton. "His defense has really improved, he’s making much better decisions, he’s much more aggressive, but that’s the learning process that sometimes youngsters go through."
"I started to know what was expected each time I started walking on the court," said Brandon when asked what's clicked for him lately. "At the beginning of the season I was kind of at a loss a little bit, but towards the end I talked to the coaches and once I started stepping up my defense my offensive game started coming around too.
"I would say it’s more the mental part of the game. Especially playing at the one most of the year that was definitely a big adjustment mentally and then the defensive part of the game, just being mentally checked in at all times that was a definitely a big change."
A lot of that isn't Brandon's fault either.
Out of high school in Greensboro, NC, Brandon was touted as one of the top small forwards in the nation. His highlight video showed him jumping over defenders left and right and making all kinds of athletic plays all over the court.
Then he got to Florida State and they changed things up on him.
"We started him out at the point guard early in the year, that was a tremendous transition for a guy who played small forward and two guard all his life," said Hamilton.
"All the sudden he comes to Division I and we give him the ball and tell him to run your team and you don’t have really a backup because Devon [Bookert's] not ready and Ian [Miller's] hurt. So that’s it. So that was a pretty challenging situation for him to go into."
As the season wore on Brandon had his ups and downs, but with the emergence of Bookert in his role at the one, and with the confidence gained throughout the course of the season, Brandon ended the year trending in the right direction.
"I think you can just see a little bit of the confidence that’s grown in him," said Hamilton. "But more than anything else, the aggressiveness, the confidence, the instinctive movement on the court now where I can attack the basket and I can contest shots and I can fight screens and I’m quick enough to contain these smaller quicker guards.
"If you notice even as far back as the Virginia game he was guarding their best player for long periods of time. And even with the Wake Forest game, those games where he’s learning how he has to play, but he’s kind of learning on the job without a whole lot of veterans around to show him the way.”
As Hamilton pointed out, this has been a unique situation where the Seminoles have had to play a lot of young players with very few veteran leaders on the team.
It's been a trial by fire in the truest sense for a lot of those guys, Brandon included. And a lot of that has just been the shell-shock from the change in tempo between the college game and what it was like in high school.
They play defense in college, there's a lot of emphasis put on things that star high schoolers never spend much time on. As Okaro White joked late last summer, they actually watch film.
It's a big adjustment, and one many players have the luxury of making during their first year behind closed doors in practice, away from cameras and fans.
Not Montay Brandon. But that may not be a bad thing.
“He’s learning and growing and sometimes if you can learn and grow from your shortcomings and you have a defeat and you can learn and grow from it, it challenges you to go out now and work out harder so you don’t see it happen again," said Hamilton.
"Sometimes that’s a learning experience that sticks with them a little longer than some of the other ones.”
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