He was projected to be one of the most commanding big men in college basketball this season.
Bernard James, a 6-10 senior, was expected to be the key piece to an FSU team that was picked to finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
However, 2011-12 thus far has been a disappointment for Florida State, and a major reason is the subpar play of its star forward. Entering Tuesday night's matchup with Virginia Tech, James was averaging 9.6 points per game, which is only a one-point improvement over last season's average, and had eclipsed double digits just once in his last four appearances.
In addition, the Savannah, Georgia, native is shooting a miserable 42 percent from the charity stripe, which places him near the bottom of the conference in that category.
Still, James wasn't recruited for his free-throw shooting, but rather for his ability to dominate inside the paint. For the majority of the season, he hasn't been that powerful inside force and has seemed tentative at times.
On Tuesday, all of that changed.
James was a key piece in Florida State's 63-59 win over the Hokies, as he led the team in points with 18 and rebounds with 15. He came up huge in a game that the ‘Noles desperately needed to win. Starting off 0-2 in the ACC would've put FSU in a hole heading into Saturday's battle with third-ranked North Carolina.
The 'Noles improved to 1-1 in conference play and put Saturday's dismal performance against Clemson in the background. They once again resorted to sound fundamental defense and forced Virginia Tech to 30.5-percent shooting from the field for the game. The Hokies were just 6 of 32 from the field in the first half.
Nonetheless, the primary reason for Tuesday's victory was James. Not only did he lead the team in points and rebounds, but he came up large when the Seminoles needed a basket the most. FSU was able to build a sizeable advantage, but Virginia Tech, led by Erick Green's 21 points, managed to climb back into contention.
Twice the Hokies closed to within five in the final minutes, but both times James responded with put-back dunks that quickly silenced an energized crowd.
Okaro White's free throws in the game's waning seconds sealed the victory for FSU.
This game was necessary for James and his confidence. If the ‘Noles are going to be contenders for an ACC title and a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, then they're going to have to ride the inside play of their star forward.
Although this team's strength is clearly in its numbers, and the addition of guard Ian Miller and his superb effort off the bench only makes this squad deeper, the real advantage lies with the big men. Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft have undeniable size, as well as decent athleticism for their build, that can overpower most opponents.
FSU clearly misses the energetic boost of Terrance Shannon, who is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder.
Still, the most talented big man on the roster is James, and FSU's post game must go through him. If he can continue these performances on a routine basis, then the Seminoles' disappointing start to the season may soon be forgotten.
More importantly, a team that badly needed a seasoned leader to step forward may now finally have one.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
James returns to his dominant form
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