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Gonzaga-Florida State key matchup: Mfiondu Kabengele provides big production off the bench

UPDATED: Wed., March 27, 2019, 8:31 p.m.

Mfiondu Kabengele was Florida State’s leading scorer during the regular season, ACC Tournament and leads the team in the NCAA Tournament – despite coming off the bench in all 36 games.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Canadian native easily won the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year award. He’s the first D-I player to lead his team in scoring without any starts since Alcorn State’s Reginal Johnson in 2017.

Kabengele has nearly doubled his production from last season. The sophomore averages 13.4 points (7.2 last season) to lead a balanced attack. He can score in a variety of ways – including 24 3-pointers, a team-high 179 free-throw attempts (137 makes) – and he shoots nearly 54 percent inside the arc.

“I feel like my game has slowed down,” said Kabengele, who had seven points and two boards in last year’s Sweet 16 win over Gonzaga. “Before I’d play well, teams would adjust and I would struggle. I feel like I’ve adjusted to the dynamics of game and I’m catching a rhythm much faster.”

Kabengele sees more playing time than starting center, 7-4 Christ Koumadje, but he pleaded with coach Leonard Hamilton in Saturday’s win over Murray State to give Koumadje more minutes.

“He came to me three times begging me not to put him in because he wanted Christ to get some confidence and he was playing well,” Hamilton said. “Christ was tired, so I put Mfiondu into the game and he faked like he was tired so Christ could get more minutes.”

The Zags had success defending versatile bigs such as BYU’s Yoeli Childs and Malik Fitts of Saint Mary’s in West Coast Conference play, but Kabengele presents a unique challenge with his size and skill set.

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