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By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 19, 2017 - 9:00 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH – Here’s the next hill that the Florida State men’s basketball team will climb on the roller coaster that is the ACC season:

After waiting a week between road games at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, the Seminoles must now be ready to go for a 7 p.m. tip-off Monday at home against Boston College.

That’s less than 48 hours after the Seminoles landed in Tallahassee late Saturday night on the heels of an 80-66 defeat to the Pitt Panthers.

And oh by the way, Boston College last played on Tuesday, which means the Eagles will have had six days to scout the Seminoles.

“They should be a lot more prepared for us than we’ll be for them,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We all go through those periods where you have quick turnarounds, and you have to adjust.”

That’s not to say that Florida State (21-6, 9-5 ACC) won’t have some things working in its favor as it looks to snap a two-game skid.

Most obviously, the Seminoles are back home, where they’re unbeaten this season and have won 19 straight games dating back to last year. Their 16 home wins since the start of the current campaign are the most in the ACC, and include five triumphs against ranked opponents. FSU hasn’t lost a home game since Feb. 17, 2016.

And Boston College is still rebuilding its foundation in the third year of coach Jim Christian’s tenure.

The Eagles are just 9-18 overall and 2-12 in conference play, both of which are worst in the ACC. BC has lost 10 straight games and is winless on the road.

“We have to bounce back,” said FSU junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who had six assists at Pitt and owns the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the ACC (3.1:1). 

“We lost. We have to regroup (Sunday) and focus on Boston College. We have to go out and get a win at home.”

FSU’s loss at Pittsburgh led to a momentous swing in the ACC standings.

After victories by North Carolina, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame on Saturday, the Seminoles dropped from second to fifth place in the league. They’re two games behind the Tar Heels for first.

But with four games remaining, the Seminoles still have time to make up ground and finish in the top four, which would earn them a coveted double-bye in next month’s ACC tournament.

First place, of course, is still on the table, too.

“Getting back home and getting a ‘W’ at home – or just getting a ‘W’ after a loss – is a great way to wash the taste out of your mouth,” freshman forward Jonathan Isaac said.

Although Boston College ranks last in the ACC in scoring margin and is the league’s worst free-throw shooting team, the Eagles have at times been dangerous from 3-point range.

Their 37.6 percentage from distance ranks seventh in the league. And FSU has been susceptible to hot perimeter shooting, with Pitt’s 45.5-percent effort on Saturday the most recent example.

BC also boasts sophomore guard Jerome Robinson, the ACC’s fourth-leading scorer and a 43.2-percent shooter.

The Seminoles meanwhile, will be looking to spark top scorer Dwayne Bacon, who against the Panthers was held without a point for the first time in his career. Bacon needs just 11 points to become the 46th player in school history to score 1,000 points in his career.

“It’s late in the year,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully we’ll be who we are and it will be enough for us to be successful at home.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 18, 2017 - 8:30 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH – After a day like the one the Florida State men's basketball team had today at Pittsburgh, it might be tempting to forget about it as quickly as possible and focus solely on the next game.

And given that the Seminoles play again in less than 48 hours, it would be easy to do.

To do that, however, would be to skip over some hard but necessary lessons. And the Seminoles were in the mood to learn following an 80-66 defeat to the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday at the Petersen Events Center. 

"It's not that I don't like the quick turnaround," freshman forward Jonathan Isaac said. "It's that I don't want to just walk away from this loss. This is one that I want to rewatch before I move on."

The Seminoles (21-6, 9-5 ACC) have lost back-to-back games for just the second time this season and fell to 4-6 in games played away from the Donald L. Tucker Center.

That’s where they’ll be when they host Boston College on Monday.

“We’ve just got to be better,” junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “We’ve got to execute at a higher level. We’ve got to move the basketball. And it starts defensively. We’re not playing defense the way we know how to play defense.”

That’s evidenced by Pitt shooting 51 percent from the field, as well as a damaging 45.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Panthers’ proficiency from range provided separation in a game in which the Seminoles held advantages in rebounding, bench points and points in the paint.

“That’s not an easy team to play – at all,” said Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, whose team has won three of its last four after an eight-game losing streak.

Rathan-Mayes led the Seminoles with 12 points, while Isaac chipped in 11 and Terance Mann had 10.

The most startling line on the box score, however, belonged to FSU’s Dwayne Bacon, who finished with zero points on an 0 for 4 night from the field.

Bacon, the team’s leading scorer who came into the contest averaging 17.4 points per game, had reached double digits in 35 consecutive games.

“I just think that every one of our guys will have one of those nights where they don’t play particularly well,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “It just happened to be his night. I don’t think it was anything different that they did to him.”

Pitt’s Stallings echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t want to take a lot of credit for that,” he said. “I think maybe he just had an off day. Because, again, a guy goes scoreless, we don’t throw shutouts very often.”

Pitt (15-12, 4-10), meanwhile, enjoyed a performance from Sheldon Jeter that may have been just as unlikely as Bacon’s struggles.

A senior forward known more for his rebounding than scoring, Jeter on Saturday had a career-high 29 points while making 12 of his 14 field-goal attempts. That’s nearly 22 points better than his season average (7.6 point per game).

Jeter’s outburst meant that FSU could take little solace in slowing down Pitt’s dynamic duo of Jamel Artis (16 points) and Michael Young (11 points), both of whom finished well below their season averages.

“It was hard for our big guys to match up with (Jeter),” Hamilton said. “We didn’t have a matchup, so we went to a smaller lineup. And they gave us some energy but we couldn’t get over the hump.”

Thanks to an offense that took care of the ball and limited FSU’s transition offense, Pitt led by four at halftime and by as much as 15 after opening the second half on a 17-6 run.

But Florida State then bounced back and scored 19 of the next 25 points, a stretch which included a 10-0 run sparked by back-to-back buckets from Braian Angola-Rodas.

Rathan-Mayes’ layup with 6:19 to go brought the Seminoles to within two points, and had the 10,525 in attendance mostly quiet.

But Pitt scored on its next possession and, following FSU misses at the free-throw line and near the basket, extended its lead to seven when Jeter drained one of his four 3-pointers.

FSU made just one of its final 10 shot attempts while being outscored 14-4 over the final five-plus minutes.

“You use a lot of energy, sometimes, cutting into that lead,” Hamilton said. “And (Pitt) is real smart, they’re and older, more mature and I thought over time they regained their composure and executed.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 17, 2017 - 10:25 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH – A week removed from its most recent game, the Florida State men’s basketball team is set to embark on a home stretch that could determine whether an already special season turns into an historic one.

With five games left in the regular season, the 17th-ranked Seminoles (21-5, 9-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference play) sit just one game behind North Carolina (21-5, 10-3) for first place in the ACC standings.

However, so too do Duke and Louisville, both of which have records identical to FSU’s. And beyond the Blue Devils and Cavaliers, Notre Dame (20-7, 9-5), Virginia (18-7, 8-5) and Syracuse (16-11, 8-6) are all within striking distance of the league’s upper tier as well.

All told, only three games separate the ACC’s first-place team (UNC) from its eighth (Virginia Tech).

How the season’s final two weeks play out will of course decide the league’s regular-season champion, but it will help also shape seeding for the NCAA tournament and determine who earns the coveted top four slots in next month’s ACC tournament.

Florida State won the ACC tournament in 2012, but has yet to win the league’s regular-season crown.

“We are moving with the idea that this is a very, very important time for us,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Somebody is going to come out of this bunch, and we want that team to be us.”

The Seminoles will look to keep pace when they visit Pittsburgh (14-12, 3-10) on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN2) at the Petersen Events Center.

In their first season under coach Kevin Stallings, Pitt was mired in an eight-game losing streak in January and February but have recently shown signs of life.

The Panthers have won two of their last three games, and they would have made it three for three had they held on against Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Pitt led the Hokies for more than 34 minutes before falling, 66-63, in the game’s waning moments.

“We know they’re hungry,” Hamilton said.

Then again, so are the Seminoles after a frustrating evening in South Bend, Ind., last week.

Facing a Notre Dame team that they had beaten previously this season, the Seminoles undermined their cause by shooting just 31.8 percent from the free-throw line in an 84-72 defeat.

The Fighting Irish also held healthy advantages in 3-points shooting and rebounding.

When they got home, the Seminoles were ready to get right back on the court and scrub the bad taste from their mouths. Instead, they had a week until their next game.

“After you lose you want to play right away,” sophomore Terance Mann said. “But then again, it’s also good. We got a chance to rest and we got a chance to go up and down.”

After giving his team a few days off, Hamilton said he noticed a renewed intensity when the Seminoles resumed their practice schedule.

They began the week by focusing on their own skills and techniques, then switched their attention to Pittsburgh a few days later.

That schedule is a far cry from earlier this season, when the Seminoles endured multiple stretches of three games in a single week.

“We’re just trying to refresh their minds and not tax their bodies,” Hamilton said. “Our practices are a little shorter now, but they’re more pointed toward the specific things we need to do to be successful.”

Against Pittsburgh, being successful means slowing down the Panthers’ star senior tandem of Michael Young and Jamel Artis.

Young (20.6 points per game) and Artis (19.7) have spent much of the season ranked as the league’s top two scorers, although Artis recently slipped to third. The pair form the third-leading scoring duo in the country.

“They’re grown men,” Mann said. “They’re older. They both can score any type of style.”

Hamilton noted that having two seniors of Young’s and Artis’ ability is something of a rarity in modern college basketball, where talented players often pursue professional careers after a year or two in college.

Having so much talent – and experience to match – makes the Panthers a unique challenge.

“They’re experienced, they’re mature and they’re fighters,” Hamilton said. “They’ve been well coached before (Stallings) got there. And they’re obviously displaying they abilities they have.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 17, 2017 - 9:00 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Drew Carlton is no stranger to starting on Fridays, having worked his way to the top of Florida State’s pitching rotation by the end of the 2016 season.

Still, he’ll be in for a new experience come this Friday.

Carlton, a junior who emerged as the ace of a staff loaded with young talent, will be the Seminoles’ Opening Day starter when they host Virginia Commonwealth on Friday at Dick Howser Stadium.

First pitch is set for 4 p.m.

“I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was a little kid,” said Carlton, who finished 8-3 with a 3.94 ERA in 2016. “It’s been a pleasure coming here every year, starting on Saturday. But Friday is a big deal for me. It’s a real honor to have the first start of the year.”

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As the 2017 campaign begins, FSU has several reasons for optimism.

The Seminoles boast experience at almost every position and a roster sprinkled with potential All-Americans.

They’ve got a talented crop of newcomers highlighted by former MLB draft prospect Drew Mendoza.

And they’ve got plenty of pop in a lineup that returns four of its top five home-run hitters from a year ago.

But it’s that pitching staff that makes coach Mike Martin shake his head and reflect on his 37 years of coaching. With Carlton, Tyler Holton and Cole Sands back in the fold, the Seminoles return each of their weekend starters from the end of last season.

And Martin isn’t sure that’s ever happened before.

“It’s a great feeling when you’ve got the experience,” Martin said. “The first three games that you play, you’re going to have three guys that were out there every weekend the previous year.”

That starts with Carlton, who punctuated his sophomore season with one of the finest efforts by a Florida State pitcher in recent memory.

In Game 1 of the Gainesville Super Regional, Carlton stymied the top-ranked Florida Gators with a complete-game, two-hit shutout.

Carlton didn’t walk a single batter. Only once did he reach so much as a three-ball count.

And Carlton thinks he can be even better this year.

“The strides have been enormous for me,” Carlton said. “Working on my cutter, my slider and my changeup have all developed really well for me.”

It’s that cutter that Carlton is especially proud of.

While tossing with his brother in the backyard, Carlton found that he could throw a pitch that left his hand like a fastball but that had late, breaking action away from right-handed hitters.

If the initial returns from FSU’s practices are any indication, the Seminoles’ opponents won’t like what they see.

“You see that fastball out of the hand, but it’s really the cutter,” FSU slugger Dylan Busby said. “And sometimes you get a little bit anxious and try to hit it a little too far, and it breaks at that last second and it’s off the end of the bat and you ground out to short or second.

“He’s twice as hard to hit now as he was.”

Following Carlton will be sophomores Cole Sands (6-7, 4.13) and Tyler Holton (3-4, 2.79), a pair of Tallahassee natives who steadily improved over the course of last season.

Holton, a lefty whose ERA was the best among Seminole pitchers with at least 10 starts, earned freshman All-America honors from Baseball America. And the hard-throwing Sands wasn’t too far behind, finishing with a strong performance against South Alabama in the NCAA regional and a respectable outing against a talented UF lineup the following week in Gainesville.

“Any of the three of us could be the Friday guy,” Carlton said. “The rotation we have is unbelievable.”

Speaking of Friday, its arrival means that Opening Day is finally here.

And, as far as the Seminoles are concerned, not a moment too soon.

“They’re smelling it,” Martin said. “Everybody is ready to play somebody with a different jersey. There’s no two ways about it.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 16, 2017 - 10:20 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Okaro White loved the food in Italy.

And he loved the people in Greece.

But after two productive – and lucrative – years in Europe, White felt called to come home, where he could pursue his dream of playing in the National Basketball Association.

The story of White, a former standout at Florida State, realizing his NBA dream is stuff movie deals are made of – an undrafted prospect who passed on big-money contracts to return to Europe instead takes a chance on himself, hoping to rise through the NBA’s Developmental League and earn a shot on the big stage.

Thousands of players believe it, but only a few are ever proven right. White is one of them. After two months with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, White earned a 10-day contract with the Miami Heat in January.

When that 10 days expired – and with the Heat on an unexpected winning streak –  Miami gave him 10 more.

Finally, with the Heat forced to either sign White for the remainder of the season or allow other teams to claim him, Miami released another player and signed White to a two-year deal.

“It’s been amazing,” White said in a phone interview from Houston, where the Heat beat the Rockets on Wednesday. “Something I couldn’t have dreamed of, the way it went. But I’m glad it went the way it did.”

So are the Heat. Miami won its first 13 games with White on board, the longest such streak for a team under .500 in NBA history, and enough to vault the Heat from near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and into contention for a playoff spot.

While averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game, White has become something of a symbol of the Heat’s recent resurgence.

His name in particular lends itself to celebrating winning streaks.

“They were starting chants every game, like ‘7-0karo, 8-0karo,’” White said. “It was something I couldn’t imagine. We were undefeated for a full 20 days.”

White played at Florida State during one of the most successful runs in the program’s recent history. He was a freshman on the FSU team that went to the Sweet 16, and a sophomore when the Seminoles won the ACC tournament a year later.

By the time White, a Clearwater native, wrapped up his senior year, he ranked in FSU’s top 10 for career blocks (107, 10th), free throws made (401) and free-throw percentage (79.9, ninth) and 16th all-time in total points (1,402).

But despite a solid career highlighted by All-ACC defensive team honors as a senior in 2014, White didn’t catch on in the NBA the following season.

So White went to Europe, where he averaged more than 12 points and six rebounds in 33 games for Virtus Bologna of the Italian Serie A.

A year later, White crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, where he enjoyed a breakout season with Aris Thessaloniki of the Greek Basketball League.

With 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, White was named the Greek League’s Most Spectacular Player while earning a spot on the league’s “Best Five” team.

“The two years I played over there (in Europe), I think it really helped me,” White said. “Just playing a different style of basketball and being able to benefit from that.”

He also got up close and personal with some of the most intense sports fans on the planet.

“Greek fans are very passionate,” White said. “We had some wild games over there. … We’ve got passionate fans over here, but they take it to another level. They’ve got the flares. I’ve seen real fires get started in the arena. They get pretty wild over there.”

But while White found a natural fit overseas, he couldn’t help but feel like he had unfinished business at home.

White still felt like he could play in the NBA, a notion only strengthened by his success in Europe.

To do that, though, it would require another stint in the D-League with no guarantee that he would reach the NBA.

And it would require White to pass on some financial security offered by European teams.

“I definitely turned down some big offers overseas. Some people were looking at numbers and were like, ‘Whoa, are you sure?’” he said. “But I always wanted to take that shot and follow my dream. I didn’t want to be 10 years from now and say I never tried or I gave up.

“I put all my faith in God and I took a chance on myself. And everything worked out how it was supposed to.”

On Jan. 17, White’s faith was rewarded: Beset by injuries, the Heat used a roster hardship exemption to sign White to a 10-day contract.

White called his mother, to relay the news. Two days later, he made his NBA debut in Dallas.

“It was an amazing moment,” he said. “It was a nervous moment, walking out on the floor. After I got up and down a couple of times, I was cool.”

White reached another milestone a week later, when he scored his first NBA points during a win over the Golden State Warriors.

He found the scoresheet in 10 of the next 12 games, and made his mark permanently with a late, go-ahead 3-pointer that helped Miami beat Brooklyn on Jan. 25.

“We like his DNA, the fabric that he brings,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. “He’s not afraid of the moment.”

Despite his busier schedule, White still has found time to follow the Seminoles.

He had dinner with the team during its recent visit to Miami, and said he texts with players and coaches regularly.

Like most FSU fans, White is thrilled with FSU’s success on the court this season.

“As long as they keep on playing together and playing unselfish basketball, there’s no telling where these guys can go,” White said.

The feeling is mutual in the Florida State locker room, where there are still three Seminoles – Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Michael Ojo and Brandon Allen – remaining from White’s last season in Tallahassee.

“I’ve been talking to him every day and I’m super proud of everything he’s doing,” Rathan-Mayes said. “He’s done a great job for himself and his family, and he’s making Florida State proud. We’re extremely happy for him.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 14, 2017 - 3:16 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla – Given the circumstances, Sue Semrau was surprisingly upbeat late Monday night.
Semrau’s fourth-ranked Florida State women’s basketball team had just lost for only the third time all season, dropping a 92-88, double-overtime thriller to No. 8 Texas after squandering a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

No one at the podium during FSU’s postgame press conference could be mistaken for happy – not after the Seminoles hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to even force overtime, and especially not after a handful of miscues and missed opportunities allowed Texas to rally from a four-point deficit in the first extra period.

But, save for a victory, Semrau said her team got everything it wanted out of a rare, late-season matchup against a non-conference foe.

The Seminoles got a good look at one of the nation’s top teams, persevered through stretches when they weren’t at their best and got contributions from across the bench thanks to foul trouble for stalwarts Leticia Romero and Ivey Slaughter.

In a sense, it was a perfect preview for next month’s NCAA tournament.

“It’s the kind of game you want to have in February,” Semrau said.

Indeed, and in more ways than one.

To start with the obvious: If the game had been played, say, this time next month, Florida State’s season would be over.

Instead, the Seminoles got to play a Sweet-16-style game a month in advance, against exactly the type of team they’re likely to see in that round.

And there’s never a bad time for that.

Texas ranks fifth in the latest NCAA ratings percentage index – one spot ahead of FSU – and has won 19 straight games.

“Ama (Degbeon) said it best: ‘Two years ago, we had to play this game to get into the Elite Eight,’” Semrau said. “This is the game we had to play then, but we got to play it in February. That’s a great opportunity and experience.

“To hit the 3 to go into overtime and get the stop to go into the second overtime, all of this we’re going to be able to look back on.”

When they do, the Seminoles will see the type of toe stubs that cost them a victory on Monday and that, truth be told, could cost them come March.

But they’re also the types of nagging missteps that can be tightened up between now and then. They hardly reveal any cracks in Florida State’s foundation.

Consider that, in a game that reached 50 minutes in length, Romero and Slaugher, two of the team’s top four scorers, played just 26 and 14 minutes, respectively, before fouling out.

As a result, the Seminoles had three players – Brittany Brown, Imani Wright and Shakayla Thomas – top the 40-minute mark, whereas Texas had just one.

And that, despite the fact that four different Longhorns fouled out.

FSU’s lack of depth caused problems as the game wore on, as evidenced by their shooting struggles down the stretch.

Texas outscored FSU 22-12 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and the Seminoles combined to shoot just 5 of 15 in both overtime periods. FSU didn’t make a single field goal in the last 3:38.

That FSU shot just 34 percent for the game sticks out in the box score. But, for a team that averages 46.9 percent from the field, it’s also not a cause for panic.

“We throw this out and we focus on what’s ahead and we learn from it,” Semrau said. “Ivey played 14 minutes and fouled out. And that doesn’t usually happen. ‘Leti’ played 26 of 50, so that’s a lot of our depth. Those things are going to happen, but we just have to learn from it.”

Otherwise, the Seminoles will lament getting just 25 second-chance points out of 27 offensive rebounds and a few missed free throws down the stretch that could have saved much of the night’s drama.

FSU finished 24 of 32 from the line – nearly 16 percentage points better than Texas’ 13 of 22 – but missed three in the first overtime period.

“There are so many things that could have gone either way and opportunities to win, it was just that kind of game,” Semrau said.

But the fact remains that, while Monday’s contest may have resembled an NCAA tournament game, it still wasn’t one. FSU missed out on a chance to bolster its resume for a No. 1 seed, but not much else. And the Seminoles should get another crack at that when they visit No. 7 Notre Dame later this month.

Otherwise, Semrau was happy to view this game for what it was – a late-season tune-up against a quality opponent. A win would have been nice, but a loss hardly derails what still has the makings of the special season.

“It would have been great to have, but at the same time, that’s not what our goal was,” Semrau said. “Our goals are still intact. We’re still the same team, but we’re going to be better because of this.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 14, 2017 - 10:35 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
  

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s annual National Signing Day party, held each year at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, has become as much a tradition under coach Jimbo Fisher as the Seminoles’ prowess on the recruiting trail.

Hours after signing yet another universally acclaimed class, Fisher and his assistants gathered to talk about the newest Noles, share stories from the road and take a few lighthearted jabs at each other.

Here are some highlights:

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 08, 2017 - 11:46 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a matchup of two star freshmen with NBA aspirations, score this round to Jonathan Isaac and the Florida State Seminoles.

Three days removed from a quiet outing against Clemson, Isaac roared back with 21 points and seven rebounds to lift No. 14 FSU to a 95-71 rout of the North Carolina State Wolfpack in front of 9,432 fans at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

Isaac outdueled NC State freshman Dennis Smith Jr., a potential lottery pick who on Wednesday matched a season-low with just eight points.

“This game, I felt like I came out a little more aggressively,” Isaac said. “My teammates found me and I made shots.”

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Dwayne Bacon added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Terance Mann flirted with a double-double (eight points, 10 boards) for FSU, which has won three straight to improve to 21-4 overall and 9-3 in the ACC. With six games to play, the Seminoles have already surpassed their conference win total from each of the last two seasons.

NC State (14-11, 3-9) dropped its fourth consecutive game.

“I thought that the effort was a direct reflection of the respect we had for them,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We knew we had to do something to not give them the opportunity to get those wide open looks.”

In front of nearly two dozen professional scouts, Isaac scored FSU’s first seven points as the Seminoles built a double-digit lead less than seven minutes into the game.

And he scored from all over the floor, knocking down 3-pointers, dunks and mid-range shots on his way to a 60-percent shooting night.

Perhaps his most impressive sequence came late in the first half, when he drove to his left and, after being fouled, lost his balance and threw up a prayer of a layup attempt on his way to the floor.

The shot rolled in, Isaac added the ensuing free throw and FSU led 41-21 with 3:41 to go in the first half. The Seminoles would eventually lead by as much as 26.

“I tried to keep my eye on the basket and just get it up there,” Isaac said with a grin. “When that’s going in, you know you’re having a good night.”

The same could not be said for NC State’s Smith, the talented guard who came into Wednesday’s game with two triple-doubles and a pair of 30-point games this season.

Led by an aggressive effort from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the Seminoles harassed and hounded Smith all night, often bringing a second defender to double-team him even as he carried the ball down the floor.

With the Seminoles funneling the ball out of Smith’s hands, he finished the first half with zero points on 0 of 4 shooting.

“Our game plan was to be as disruptive as possible,” Hamilton said. “…There’s very few times that you face a guy who potentially is as dominating as this youngster is. He’s outstanding.”

By the time the Wolfpack adjusted in the second period, it was too late to mount a rally of any significance.

Smith, who entered the game averaging nearly 20 points per contest, took just eight shots and made only four of them, although he did contribute eight assists. Terry Henderson led the Wolfpack with 17 points, while Maverick Rowan and Abdul-Malik Abu each chipped in 16.

“(Smith) is one of the top scorers in our league, and I wanted to take the challenge upon myself,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I’ve been given the assignment to be the one who starts our defense, to be the head of our defense, to be a guy that is constantly turning people in the backcourt, constantly putting pressure on opposing offenses. And I’ve taken that to heart.”

NC State went on one extended run – a 13-3 swing midway through the second half – that cut FSU’s lead to 16 points with 7:34 to go. Otherwise, the Seminoles never had much to worry about.

That’s thanks in large part to an overwhelming advantage on the glass, where FSU outrebounded the Wolfpack 49-25 and turned 21 offensive boards into 19 second-chance points.

Mann’s 10 rebounds led the Seminoles, but Bacon (nine), Isaac (seven), and Michael Ojo (six) weren’t far behind.

Of the 13 Seminoles to play on Wednesday, all but three grabbed at least one rebound.

“I thought today the difference in the game was their rebounding,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They’ve got length, they’ve got depth, they’re big on the perimeter, on the wings. Today, I just thought they whipped us on the glass.”

FSU also took care of the ball, racking up 20 assists against just seven turnovers.

Three of those assists belonged to Ojo, the senior center known more for his physical presence than for his deft touch with the ball. He nearly matched a season high with 11 points and six rebounds.

Up next for FSU is a visit to No. 19 Notre Dame on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2). The Seminoles won the previous meeting between the two, 83-80, in Tallahassee on Jan. 18.

The Irish on Tuesday snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Wake Forest.

“We’ve got to be very focused going in to South Bend because they kind of hit a little skid, like most teams do,” Hamilton said. “They’re going to be very hungry for a victory.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 07, 2017 - 6:44 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Perhaps it’s yet another sign of life in the Atlantic Coast Conference that a team near the bottom of the league standings is also blessed with what might be the league’s best player.

That would be point guard Dennis Smith Jr., a freshman at North Carolina State whose emergence has somewhat served to offset a difficult year for the Wolfpack.

NC State is 14-10 overall, 3-8 in conference play and entering Wednesday’s visit to No. 14 Florida State on a three-game losing streak.

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But that hasn’t stopped Smith from building one of the ACC’s most impressive resumes. He ranks fifth in the league in scoring (19.21 points per game), second in steals (2.21 per game) and first in assists (6.96 per game).

Smith, a native of Fayetteville, N.C., and the North Carolina Player of the Year for 2015, also has two triple-doubles and a pair of 30-point games, the second of which came in NC State’s home loss to Miami on Saturday.

“The guys with his kind of ability come along once a decade,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He has the whole package. The strength, the quickness, the speed, the ability to create his shot, create for others. And (he) is also athletic enough to take it to the basket and finish.”

Smith is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft, with some analysts projecting him as a top-five selection.

“He has everything,” Florida State sophomore Terance Mann said. “He can do everything. He’s smart, he can pass the ball, he can score, he’s fast. He can shoot.

“There’s no gaps in his game.”

Then again, there weren’t many gaps in the Seminoles’ defense in their wins over Miami and Clemson last week.

After a two-game skid plagued by leaky defending, FSU last week held Miami to just 57 points and Clemson to 61. And the Seminoles allowed the Tigers to shoot just 38.1 percent in a 109-61 rout on Sunday.

No surprise then that, armed with a confidence boost, FSU’s defenders are looking forward to matching up with NC State’s Smith.

“He’s going to be really fun to play against,” freshman guard C.J. Walker said. “We’ve got three or four guys that are going to guard him and we’re going to try to get him off his game as best we can.”

That group includes junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who along with embracing his role as a facilitator, has also enjoyed a defensive renaissance during his third season on the floor.

Rathan-Mayes has made a sport out of pressuring opposing offenses and harassing ball-handlers, and his work against Duke’s Grayson Allen earlier this season helped spark FSU’s lopsided victory over the Blue Devils.

“He’s become one of the premier defenders in the ACC, which no one ever seems to mention,” Hamilton said. “His defense has been just short of unbelievable.”

But while Smith grabs most of the headlines, Hamilton cautioned against thinking of the Wolfpack as a one-man show.

NC State actually has five players averaging double-digit scoring, and two players shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range.

As a result, the Wolfpack rank fifth in the ACC with 81.2 points per game. But whereas scoring isn’t a problem, defending most certainly is. NC State’s 78.9 points per game allowed ranks dead last in the 15-team conference.

“Most teams, if they’re averaging 81 points a game, you’d be pretty happy as a coach,” Hamilton said. “… And we’re trying to avoid the philosophy of giving all your attention to Dennis and not giving your attention to a team that’s averaging 81 points a game.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted February 04, 2017 - 10:00 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With a three-game road trip behind it, the Florida State men’s basketball team returns home a little more weathered, but also a little bit wiser.

No. 15 FSU dropped the first two games of the trip – at Georgia Tech and Syracuse – before returning to form and cruising to a lopsided victory at Miami on Wednesday.

The Seminoles (19-4, 7-3 ACC) believe the lessons learned in those first two games helped spur them to a win in the third. And they hope those lessons will carry over to Sunday’s home game against Clemson (12:30 p.m., ESPNU).

“I learned that we have to be careful to maintain our identity of who we are and what’s best in relation to us and how we need to play to be successful,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I think we had a little slippage in those areas. And I think our guys really have a much better understand of how we’ve got to stay focused.”

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At 13-8, 3-6 in the ACC, the Tigers have disappointed in coach Brad Brownell’s seventh season at the helm.

However, Clemson comes to Tallahassee having won two straight games, including a double-digit victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

And, as Hamilton noted, the Tigers have been on the wrong end of several close games: They lost by one point to both Virginia and Virginia Tech, by five to Notre Dame and by three to North Carolina in overtime.

“Their record could be completely opposite,” he said. “They very well could’ve won three more games, and they’d be in the top 25.”

But while the Tigers are 8-3 at home, they’re a combined 5-5 in road and neutral-site games.

And the Seminoles have enjoyed a virtually unprecedented home-court advantage this season. They have a 17-game winning streak inside the Donald L. Tucker Center dating back to last season, and are expecting a fourth-straight sellout on Sunday.

“From a coaching standpoint,” Hamilton said, “I sure like giving our visitors a little dose of the same medicine we receive when we go on the road.”

Despite their uneven record, the Tigers still have one of the ACC’s top scorers in senior Jaron Blossomgame. The 6-7, 220-pound forward averages 18.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Blossomgame was one of four Tigers to score in double digits against Georgia Tech, with Avry Holmes, Shelton Mitchell and Donte Grantham joining him.

“I just know that they play hard,” sophomore guard Terance Mann said. “They’re big at every position. It’s going to be tough.”

Florida State doesn’t need any reminder of what can happen if it doesn’t come out with a sharp effort.

Those setbacks against Georgia Tech and Syracuse are lesson enough.

“Sometimes you want to have a walk in the park like some conferences have,” Mann said. “But there’s nothing like that in the ACC.”

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