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Singleton's return not single reason Florida State advances

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CHICAGO -- Florida State finally got Chris Singleton back in the lineup, but it was a smothering defense that keyed the Seminoles to a 57-50 win over Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament's Round of 64.

It was a switch to a zone defense in the second half that turned the tide. The Seminoles trailed 31-23 early after intermission when coach Leonard Hamilton, who is basically a man-to-man guy, called for the zone.

"We thought just a change would be good for our defense, even if we had to go back to our man-to-man," Hamilton said after the game. "They were not getting the ball inside to [David] Loubeau as much as they had wanted. So we stuck with it, and it worked out for us."

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It certainly did. Texas A&M got flat-footed on offense, too often settling for jumpers that weren't falling. Loubeau wasn't the only one affected. Khris Middleton led the Aggies with 11 first half points, but was only 2-7 after the break for five points, and those points came in the final minutes after the game was no longer in doubt. The team shot only 28 percent in the second half after shooting closer to 40 percent in the first.

The play that typified the A&M offense in the second half came with about 12 minutes left. B.J. Holmes drove through the defense and went in for a reverse layup, but the shot actually went farther away from the rim, and then over the backboard.

Mostly though, when the Aggies did break the zone down and get the ball inside, someone was there to swat it away. Usually, that someone was Bernard James, who had three of Florida State's 10 blocks on the game (seemed like more). Six different Seminoles were credited with blocked shots.

James was a cipher in the first half, with only two points, but his biggest problem was that he didn't look interested. That problem got addressed at halftime.

"We challenged him, and I thought he rose to the occasion," Hamilton said. "He got big rebounds. Even the shots he didn't block, I thought he changed a lot."

One of the key plays late in the second half came off a James block. The Aggies were looking to cut into a six-point lead when James blocked a Holmes shot out beyond the arc, where it found its way to Michael Snaer. He beat everyone down the floor for a layup, essentially ending any Texas A&M threat to win.

James took over on offense too, demanding the ball in the post and finishing his chances. He had 10 points on the game, eight coming after the break, and all deep in the paint.

Singleton only had five points in 16 minutes in his return to the lineup, but three of those came on a 3-pointer with just under seven minutes left after Texas A&M had cut the lead to two. He also had two rebounds, one block and four fouls.

Coach Hamilton was leery of using him that much, despite the doctors clearing him to play, and Singleton's insistence that he was in condition for it. Hamilton didn't decide to put him in the rotation until noon today, and he didn't start.

"He won't play long stretches, [but] the pace of the game was so slow in the latter stages of the game, I felt that he would be OK," Hamilton said. "I want to err on the side of being too cautious when you're dealing with a young man's future."

Singleton played six consecutive minutes in the first half, coming in for the first time with about eight minutes to go. He picked up three fouls, or he might have finished the half. He also played the last 10 minutes of the game.

It was clear that he was rusty, especially in the offense, but he was a force on the defensive end, and I am willing to bet Hamilton sets aside his fears and plays him significantly more against Notre Dame on Sunday.

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