TALLAHASSEE - Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton had an uneasy feeling after a couple of lackluster workouts in the days leading up to Friday night's season opener.
"That old adage that you normally play the way you practice was very evident," he said. "We played exactly the way we've practiced the last couple of days with kind of a lethargic, unfocused mind-set."
That nearly cost his Seminoles against Texas Southern.
Shoot. It probably would have were it not for junior forward Diego Romero, making his long awaited debut after a lengthy battle with the NCAA that essentially cost him last season, and freshmen guards Ralph Mims and Isaiah Swann.
They combined for 43 points in a hard-fought 71-62 win against the Tigers, a middling team in the lightly regarded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in front of an announced 7,011 at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Sophomore forward Alexander Johnson, senior forward Anthony Richardson and junior guard/forward Andrew Wilson shot a combined 3-of-17 for nine points.
But then, Hamilton kind of sensed "challenges" on the horizon. Johnson missed more than two weeks of practice with a hamstring strain. Richardson moved from wing to the low post when Johnson was out then broke his nose, and the oft-injured Wilson is coming off foot surgery.
Add in an eye injury to freshman Jason Rich, who returned to practice Thursday and was held out against the Tigers (0-1), and Hamilton's decision to not play sophomore guard Von Wafer for unspecified reasons, and suddenly the Seminoles were caught looking for a rotation and rhythm.
They found enough, at least on this night, from new additions.
Romero hit 5 of 6 shots, including his lone 3-pointer, and 7-of-11 from the line for a team-high 18 points to go with two blocks and a game-high nine rebounds. "It took me a few minutes to get into the game," said the native of Argentina. "I was kind of lost in the beginning a little bit." Mims came off the bench and added 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds. Swann had eight points, including two free throws with 37.8 seconds to help seal the win.
"Obviously, I thought Swann did a very good job of leading us when he was in the game," Hamilton said. "And Ralph, I'm sure he's a surprise to most of you because he's been kind of a kept secret. He didn't get a lot of the publicity some of the other guys had received coming in." Still, the Seminoles' 14-point second-half lead dwindled to 61-57 with 4:28 left.
"I don't think anybody in that arena felt we'd be down four points," Texas Southern coach Ronnie Courtney said.
But sophomore forward Al Thornton came up with two blocks. Romero got an offensive rebound that led to a Mims layup. Swann hit his two free throws, and Romero had a block, two defensive rebounds and made 3 of 4 free throws. "Obviously, we're a better basketball team than what was displayed," Hamilton said. "A lot of teams go through that when they're trying to find themselves, trying to develop the mentality that you have to have in order to be successful at the level we're trying to get it. I have no doubt we'll get there."
FSU WOMEN WIN OPENER: Holly Johnson hit a runner in the lane and followed with a fastbreak layup and free throw to ignite a 17-8 run in the final 5:59 that carried Florida State to a season-opening 56-48 win against Xavier. Alicia Gladden led FSU with a career-high 17 points, and Johnson had 12.