Twelve stitches can’t stop Walker from leading Noles

After suffering a busted lip that required 12 stitches, M.J. Walker (right) returned to Saturday’s game to help the Seminoles get the win over Syracuse.
Photo by Mike Ewen

By Tim Linafelt

Senior writer/

Sometime soon, M.J. Walker is going to find that his lower lip is awfully sore.

For now, though, he’s all smiles. Even if that smile is a little swollen.

Despite missing about 20 minutes of game time to get 12 stitches in that lip, Walker scored 16 points that helped No. 8 Florida State to a 70-67 win over Syracuse last Saturday afternoon at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

Walker, who had scored nine points before his injury and seven more after his return, was 5-of-9 from the 3-point line, and his four-point play with 2:36 to go in the second half helped turn the game FSU’s way after a late Syracuse surge.

“I can’t say enough about M.J.,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “To get a cut like he got, and 12 stitches is an awful lot of stitches to have to recover from. You have to get an awful lot of shots.

“For him to come back out and represent his team in that fashion with no fear, with a lot of confidence and aggressiveness says a lot about his will, his desire and toughness and, more than anything else, the culture that we’ve been able to develop, that he wanted to get in there and help his team.”

Freshman Patrick Williams scored 17 point and senior Trent Forrest added 13 for the Seminoles, who won their 20th consecutive home game despite playing without leading scorer Devin Vassell.

Vassell warmed up and watched the game from the bench, but Hamilton declined to comment on the sophomore’s status or whether he would have been ready for the Seminoles’ next game.

As usual, FSU’s depth more than made up for the absence. The Florida State bench outscored Syracuse’s by 28 points and all 10 Seminoles who played scored at least two points.

The Orange, meanwhile, had four players log at least 32 minutes.

“We talk to the (reserves) all the time about staying ready, staying in the gym, getting your reps in,” Trent Forrest said. “Those guys do a good job. To have (41) points from the bench, I mean, that’s big-time for us.”

Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes (25 points) and Joseph Girard III (22) did enough to give the Seminoles a scare, but FSU mitigated their damage by holding Buddy Boeheim, the Orange’s second-leading scorer and one of the country’s top 3-point shooters, off the scoreboard entirely.

Boeheim, who came into the contest averaging more than 16 points per game, finished 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range.

“The respect we have for what he’s capable of doing is the reason why we gave him a tremendous amount of attention,” Hamilton said. “Very seldom do you see a guy who’s going out and getting 18 straight points in an ACC game (which Boeheim did against Virginia Tech last month). That gets your attention.”