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By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 24, 2017 - 4:17 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ever since their days as prep stars in Orlando, Jacques Patrick has known Deondre Francois to be unflappable and even-keeled.

So it hardly comes as a surprise that Patrick sees Francois emerging into a more natural leader as he enters his second year as Florida State’s starting quarterback.

Still, Patrick can’t help but break into a smile when asked about his longtime friend and roommate.

“It’s just crazy,” Patrick said after practice Thursday. “From last year to this time, this year, he’s so cool, calm and collected out there. Everyone just gravitates to him. He’s our leader and everybody looks to him.”

It’s a role that Francois is ready to embrace.

Not only is he Florida State’s first returning starter at quarterback since Jameis Winston in 2014, but he’s also one of the few holdovers from an offense that this fall must replace key contributors at running back, receiver and on the offensive line.

That, of course, starts with superstar running back Dalvin Cook, who re-wrote both single-season and career rushing records before declaring for the NFL draft at the end of last season.

But it also includes two veteran linemen (Roderick Johnson, Kareem Are) and three standout receivers (Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson).

All of a sudden, Francois has evolved from fresh-faced newcomer to steadying hand on an offense that’s long on talent but a little short on experience in some positions.

“We are still the Seminoles,” Francois said. “It is still a full team effort. I am going to miss Dalvin, but he reached his peak and had to go. A lot of the young guys are stepping up and it should be fun.”


Francois has good reason to feel confident. As a redshirt freshman in 2016, he started all 13 games, engineered the largest come-from-behind victory in school history and performed on some of college football’s biggest stages.

Along the way, he threw for 3,350 yards and scored 25 touchdowns (20 passing, five rushing) en route to ACC rookie of the year honors.

“He’s gone out there when the lights on the scoreboard mattered and played in big games and won big games,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He put us in a position to win a lot of football games. He did it under big time situations, and that always gives you confidence.”

So does entering the huddle knowing his job is secure.

A year ago, Francois entered a three-way quarterback race with Sean Maguire and J.J. Cosentino that stretched past spring, through the summer into fall camp.

Francois and Maguire, then a fifth-year senior, were considered neck-and-neck when Maguire injured his foot early in fall camp.

Francois then seized the job and never let go.

Fast forward a few months, and Francois is entrenched at the top of the depth chart.

Cosentino, a redshirt junior, has the inside track to be FSU’s top quarterback reserve, with freshman Bailey Hockman and walk-on Jake Rizzo also in the mix.

But don’t bother telling that to Francois, who insists that nothing has changed – he’s still competing in practice as if there is a challenger breathing down his neck.

“I feel like, at all times, I have to compete with myself,” he said. “I may not have to compete against anyone else, but I have to compete internally. If I am tired, I have to keep going. Every ball has to be perfect, the next play has to have no mistakes.

“I am just trying to compete with myself to get better.”

Fisher hopes that attitude rubs off on Francois’ teammates, many of whom are engaged in position battles of their own this spring.

“When he puts his influence on the other guys – and hopefully that is what he is trying to do and what he’s been doing –  it makes it hard for them not to play the same way,” Fisher said.

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 23, 2017 - 10:18 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – To say that the Florida State baseball team got a lift by rallying to beat Jacksonville on Tuesday would be an understatement.

To see how much that victory meant to the Seminoles – it came on the heels of a difficult week on the road, and then after falling behind by seven runs in the first inning – look only at the way they poured out of the dugout and dogpiled near second base after J.C. Flowers brought home the winning run.

And while FSU coach Mike Martin is fond of quoting Hall-of-Famer Earl Weaver, who famously said that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, the Seminoles still feel like they’re riding a positive wave into this weekend’s series at Notre Dame.

“You don’t get a better win like that,” FSU senior Quincy Nieporte said. “It was a fairy tale ending to what was a really, really frustrating, slow and horrible week before.”

“I think we needed that win,” Flowers added. “It was good just to get back in the ‘W’ column and maybe get a streak going.” 

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The win over Jacksonville served to remind the Seminoles what they’ve known for a while – when things are clicking, this is a very good baseball team.

So good that they were ranked No. 1 just last week before falling 1-0 at Florida, then dropping two out of three at Virginia Tech.

Those two losses included one in which FSU once led 10-2, and another in which the Seminoles were beaten 17-0.

So, when Nieporte said it was “really frustrating,” maybe he was understating things, too.

And that frustration reached its tipping point on Tuesday, when Jacksonville stunned the Seminoles by striking for seven runs in the top of the first inning.

That’s when, according to Nieporte, the Seminoles steeled their resolve and got to work.

“When we came in and it was our time to hit, there was no panic,” he said. “It was, 'Alright, it's our turn.' Everybody bought into that. ... We were able to have that mindset of, 'So what? We'll get after it and we'll chip away and we'll be back.'

“It was no panic and we got it done.”

The next step is to carry that momentum to South Bend, Ind., where the Seminoles are looking for their first win in four tries.

And that’s where Martin expects the maturity of his team to come through.

“At this time of the season, we can’t get up and we can’t get down. We’ve got to stay levelheaded,” Martin said. “When we get on that plane (Thursday), we’ve got to understand that we’re playing a team (Notre Dame) that swept us two years ago in that same yard.

“We can’t dwell on what happened on Tuesday night. Just like we couldn’t dwell on what happened on Sunday afternoon. You just have to keep on working and try to improve in every area of your game.”

Nieporte feeling grand
With his fourth grand slam of the season last week, Nieporte moved ahead of some of FSU’s all-time greats in the school record book.

Nieporte’s four grand slams are the most in a single season in school history. The previous record, three, is shared by J.D Drew (1996), Jeremy Morris (1996), Dennis Guinn (2006), Buster Posey (2008) and Seth Miller (2012).

“It’s a little surprising,” Nieporte said with a laugh. “It’s definitely a statistic that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not like I’m going up there trying to go up there and do it and hit a home run. But it’s been an awesome experience.”

With five career grand slams, Nieporte is also just one shy of the program record, which is held by Drew and Morris.

Nieporte, of course, is the one swinging the bat. But he also was quick to point out that hitting a grand slam is only possible when the rest of the lineup is doing its job, too.

“It’s also a great statistic because it shows that our teammates are also doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “I especially love grand slams just because they don’t happen all the time. and to have four opportunities, and I’m lucky enough to capitalize on those four opportunities, it’s a great reward for the team.”

As the season nears its midway point, Nieporte leads FSU in home runs (six), slugging percentage (.560) and RBIs (34, also the most nationally), and he’s second in batting average (.307).

Flowers comes through in the clutch
For all the work that Florida State had put in to rallying on Tuesday, the game still came down to this: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded and a freshman at the plate with a one-run deficit.

That would be Flowers, the first-year centerfielder who, while having a solid season at the plate, had never been in a high-pressure situation like that before.

“My heart was racing,” he said. “We had the fan base behind us and I just tried to put a good swing on the ball.”

Flowers did just that, going down in the strike zone to send a two-strike breaking ball in to left field. Two runs scored as FSU secured its most emotional victory of the season.

“It was big for me,” Flowers said. “I feel like I solidified my spot in the lineup. I feel like the guys trust me a lot more now.”

Added Martin: “It was something that can really help him as we go through the season. He’s had a number of opportunities and he has produced. And he has also popped it up and struck it out. It did him a lot of good, because I don’t think he had ever been in that situation. I know he hadn’t here – down two outs, two strikes, bases loaded.

“And to rope one to left to win the ball game was certainly a big lift for him. And us.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 23, 2017 - 10:02 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dwayne Bacon is sure this time.

Florida State’s sophomore guard and leading scorer, Bacon declared for the NBA draft on Wednesday afternoon, and, as he discussed his decision, he did so with the confidence and calmness of someone who knows that he made the right choice.

And Bacon admitted that those feelings were in stark contrast to the ones he felt a year ago, when he announced his intentions to go pro, only to change his mind and come back to FSU a few days later.

“I just was shaking when I made the decision last year,” Bacon said. “…Last year, I didn’t feel like I was ready. I had a lot of doubt in me. And I’m usually not that type of player. And this year, I feel like I’m much more mature, got a lot better as far as my game has come along.

“So, this year, I’m excited. I feel like this is the best way to go for me. I feel like a lot of blessings are coming my way.”

When Bacon opted to return for his sophomore season, he did so with a checklist of things he hoped to achieve.

First and foremost, as a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, he wanted to improve his shooting.

He also wanted to refine his mechanics while becoming a more reliable and more vocal leader.

And Bacon wanted to be sure not to leave college without playing in the NCAA tournament.

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With his sophomore season now in the books, Bacon can say he checked every box.

His shooting percentage increased from .447 in Year 1 to .452 in Year 2 and, more importantly, he increased his 3-point percentage from .281 to .333.

And Bacon served as part of a core of veterans who helped bring along a handful of younger players, which helped FSU amass the second-highest win total in school history (26).

Finally, Bacon made his Big Dance debut last week, where he led the Seminoles in scoring in each of their two NCAA tournament games.

His college basketball goals achieved, Bacon felt it only natural to take the leap to the next level.

“Playing in the NBA is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Bacon said. “But coming about this decision was just (the result of) discussing with my parents, discussing with the coaching staff.

“They felt like it was time for me to leave. I came back and got better in every aspect. So it was the best decision that I had to make for me.”

Bacon’s decision to come to Florida State rates perhaps as one of the most significant developments in the program’s recent history.

A former five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American from Lakeland, Bacon picked FSU over offers from a host of college-hoops heavyweights and, along with fellow prep star Malik Beasley, ushered in a new wave of talented players at Florida State.

That wave continued a year later with the signing of fellow high-school All-American Jonathan Isaac, who combined with Bacon to form a star tandem that helped lead the Seminoles to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

“Getting back to the tournament is also something that’s just a dream come true,” Bacon said.

Along the way, Bacon provided more than his share of memorable moments.

There was his mid-range jumper with five seconds left that helped the Seminoles beat Florida in Gainesville for the first time in four tries.

And there was his game-winning 3-pointer – part of a 29-point performance – that lifted FSU to a win at Virginia and helped spark a 6-1 start in ACC play and a No. 6 national ranking.

And, just last week, there was the thunderous, one-handed dunk that turned the momentum in FSU’s win over Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

All of that has Bacon feeling confident that he’ll be happy come draft day. Most analysts project him to be selected from the middle of the first round to the early second.

“Once (my name) gets called, it’s just excitement,” Bacon said. “It’s a dream that, like I said, a lot of guys don’t live out. Once I hear it get called, it will be a lot of joy, a lot of tears. But it’s just more work that comes from that.”

Bacon is sure of his decision, but that doesn’t mean it came easily.

The conversation with FSU’s coaches – especially head coach Leonard Hamilton and assistant Charlton Young – was difficult.

As was making the rounds to his teammates to let them know that he wouldn’t be with them next year.

“He’s my closest friend,” said FSU sophomore Terance Mann, who signed with Bacon and Beasley in the same 2015 recruiting class. “He taught me a lot, a lot about the game offensively. He gave me that competitive spirit. He challenged me a lot.”

The next challenge for Bacon is choosing an agent – he confirmed Wednesday that he will sign with an agent and thus forfeit his remaining eligibility – and then preparing for the NBA draft combine in May.

When he does, he’ll go to Chicago with the confidence that comes from having a solid foundation built during two years in Tallahassee, as well as with the memories and friendships forged during a meaningful career at FSU.

“The coaches, I love them,” Bacon said. “They treated me like I was their son, their own blood. The teammates I had were just amazing. … I will definitely remember this team – because it will never be the same team –  because we did so much to turn this program around and we made a lot of things happen.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 21, 2017 - 11:08 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Maybe it was because he was playing in his hometown of Miami.

Or maybe it’s because, after four years, he had made it through a full season without any major injuries for the first time in his career.

Or maybe, as he said after Florida State’s spring practice on Monday, “something just clicked.”

Either way, Matthew Thomas knows this: He had the best game of his college career in the Seminoles’ Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.

And he plans on even bigger things this fall.

“I feel confident,” Thomas, a fifth-year senior linebacker said. “And feel like myself again.”

Here’s what Thomas, himself, did against the Wolverines: A game-high 15 tackles – more than double the next defender on either team –  and 3.5 tackles for loss in a 33-32 win.

That includes a torpedo of a tackle in the first quarter, when Thomas blew through the Michigan line, stood up Wolverines running back De’Veon Smith and brought him down three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The play happened just moments after Michigan recovered a fumble at FSU’s 1-yard line, and it helped the Seminoles reclaim momentum by forcing a field goal.

It was the type of performance that Thomas had in mind when he signed with Florida State in 2013. A former five-star prospect out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, Thomas got off to a fine start as a freshman before a handful of injuries and personal hurdles sidetracked his career.

He entered his redshirt junior year having played in just 12 games. But in 2016, Thomas’ production matched his potential as he recorded a team-best 77 tackles.

Even better, Thomas appeared in all 13 games. And knowing that his best game came during his most recent outing has Thomas feeling a unique type of confidence.

“I’m really motivated,” Thomas said. “And a lot of momentum from last year is carrying over to next year.”

Asked about his goals for his final year, Thomas answered: “Just be better.”

“Be a better player,” he added. “A better teammate, a better leader. Last go-round, I want to do things right.”

That’s good news for a Florida State defense that appears set to rely on its linebackers for leadership.

With key veterans gone from both the defensive line (DeMarcus Walker) and secondary (Marquez White), Thomas, along with fellow senior linebackers Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Jacob Puh, will be counted on to help guide FSU’s defense into the next season.

And given that the Seminoles are opening their season against Alabama, that’s a pretty big job.

“We know we have a big year ahead of us,” Thomas said. “We know we have a huge role on this team, so we’ve just got to do our part.”

FSU’s strength at linebacker starts with Thomas and continues with Hoskins, a fellow fifth-year senior who started every game a year ago.

With a full season together – and, as Thomas estimated, “a million” reps together on the practice fields – Thomas believes that he and Hoskins have a chemistry that maybe wasn’t so apparent at this time last year.

“It makes a big difference,” Thomas said. “You’re accountable, stuff like that. You know he’s going to get his job done. …  All the hours we put in together on the field, off the field, in the meeting room, all the conversations we have. All that chemistry, it goes into it.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 20, 2017 - 8:00 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As wide as the gulf was between Florida State and Missouri on Sunday night – and the final score of FSU’s 77-57 victory over the Tigers in the second round of the NCAA tournament might still sell it short – perhaps the greatest example of the Seminoles’ dominance was this:

Florida State had Shakayla Thomas and Missouri didn’t.

Didn’t have anyone close, really.

Thomas, a junior forward and the ACC’s player of the year, was simply brilliant in leading FSU to a third straight Sweet Sixteen.

She had 20 points and 11 rebounds to pick up her fifth double-double of the year. She had a steal and a block in the face of Mizzou’s Cierra Porter, who, at 6-foot-4, is taller than Thomas by nearly half a foot. And she had a five-minute stretch in the third quarter when she was clearly the best player on the floor, making three shots from the field while adding two free throws and a rebound that helped the Seminoles turn what had been a tense game into a rout.

Missouri, meanwhile, had no answer.

“Everything,” Tigers coach Robin Pingeton said when asked what made Thomas so effective. “She’s basically un-guardable.”

Thomas’ teammates, of course, offered no argument.

“I know she can score the ball any time she wants,” FSU senior Brittany Brown said. “But when she rebounds and defends on that other end, it just changes us. It changes the whole team.

It changed the game on Sunday.

In keeping with a recent trend, the Seminoles got off to an uneven start and trailed after the first quarter for the fourth straight game.

Things improved in the second, when FSU used a 15-2 run to erase a five-point deficit and surge to 32-27 lead at halftime. But with their advantage just five points and Missouri feeling confident, the Seminoles were still in a tenuous position.

That, however, didn’t last much longer.

Paced by two free throws and a layup from Thomas the Seminoles scored the first eight points of the second half and were never seriously threatened again.

“Nothing really psychs her out,” Brown said. “But I just came to her (at halftime) and I told her, ‘I want you to turn up. Second half, get after it.’ And she did.”

Second-half surges are nothing new for Thomas. She scored 16 of her 20 during the second half on Sunday, which marks the 13th time this season that she’s scored 10 or more points after halftime.

Thomas couldn’t quite put her finger on what changes for her after the break, but Semrau theorized that perhaps Thomas’ former role as the first player off the bench – she won back-to-back ACC sixth player of the year honors as a freshman and sophomore – might have something to do with it.

“It’s interesting,” Semrau said. “…Today, I didn’t think she was as locked in (early) as we needed her to be. Not because she didn’t try to be, but her teammates really give her a lot of energy and encouragement. I think they really just want her to be the great player that she is and the more she hears that, the better she gets.”

The idea that Thomas could get even better is a scary thought for the teams left in Florida State’s tournament bracket.

The Seminoles already know they’ll face No. 2 seed Oregon State in Stockton, Calif., on Saturday. Win that, and a date with No. 1 seed South Carolina or a fourth meeting with fourth-seeded Miami would likely be in store.

While the tournament is still in its early stages – and Semrau insists she isn’t peeking at the bracket – the top teams in the region have looked vulnerable thus far.

Oregon State, which has won 31 games this season, narrowly escaped with a two-point win over No. 15-seed Long Beach State in the first round. And South Carolina trailed No. 8 seed Arizona State with under two minutes to play on Sunday before pulling out a 71-68 victory.

Although the Seminoles still have two major hurdles to clear to make their first Final Four, one thing is clear: They have Shakayla Thomas, and those other teams won’t.

“She,” Missouri’s Pingeton said, “is a really, really special player.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 18, 2017 - 8:23 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

ORLANDO – Just a few minutes into Florida State’s game against Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Musketeers’ game plan was startlingly clear:

Shoot a bushel of 3-pointers and make the Seminoles do the same.

Unfortunately for FSU, that plan worked to ruthless perfection.

Thanks to a sharp offense and a blistering shooting performance, 11th-seeded Xavier beat No. 3-seed FSU, 91-66, Saturday at the Amway Center to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Musketeers, who came into the game ranked 220th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (34.2), made 11 of 17 (64.7 percent) from beyond the arc against the Seminoles.

FSU, meanwhile, was as cold from deep as Xavier was hot. The Seminoles made just 4 of 21 3-point attempts and were 6 of 34 (17.6 percent) from distance in their two games at the NCAA tournament.


“The difference of the game was that they shot exceptionally well from the 3 and we shot exceptionally poorly. I thought that was the equalizer,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Most of the time, teams will shoot what they normally shoot, from a percentage standpoint.”

If Xavier had done that, then the Seminoles might be the ones headed to San Jose, Calif., for the Sweet Sixteen.

Instead, the experienced Musketeers knifed the ball through Florida State’s defense, often making an extra pass to find an open shooter at the perimeter.

Xavier missed its first 3-point attempt, then proceeded to make its next five, with five different players dealing the damage.

“It was tough,” said Dwayne Bacon, who led the Seminoles with 20 points and five rebounds. “They were making the second or third or fourth extra pass and then it was just a wide open 3. That’s something that you can knock down in your sleep.”

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FSU, meanwhile, was the exact opposite. Xavier Rathan-Mayes connected from 3-point range to give the Seminoles their first points of the game, seemingly a good omen for a team that had struggled with its 3-point shooting as of late.

After that, though, Florida State’s shooters combined to miss their next 11 attempts from distance.

And with the Musketeers committed to a packed-in zone defense that denied FSU’s drives to the interior, the Seminoles felt they had little choice than to try shoot them out of it.

Several of FSU’s 3-point attempts came with a clean look at the basket, and several more appeared good before rimming out.

As the misses added up, Xavier’s lead ballooned to as much as 15 points in the first half.

“If you knock down a couple 3s, then they don’t have the luxury of packing it in like that,” Hamilton said. “They did a very good job with their strategy of rolling the dice and saying they didn’t think we could make enough 3s. And they were right.”

When Florida State mounted its best rally of the game, a 16-5 run that trimmed its deficit to four points late in the first half, Xavier answered with – what else? – a 3-pointer.

“They couldn’t miss,” Rathan-Mayes said.

And as a result, the Seminoles couldn’t rely on the usual pillars that made them so successful this season.

With post touches hard to come by, the Seminoles were out-scored in the paint, 36-26, with centers Michael Ojo, Phil Cofer and Jarquez Smith combining for just two shot attempts.

On the other end, Xavier’s precise passing and gaudy shooting percentage made it difficult for FSU to create turnovers and score in transition.

The Musketeers finished with 20 assists against nine turnovers, and FSU accounted for only two fast-break points.

“Most of the time, we’re able to get deflections and steals to generate offense from our defense,” Hamilton said. “And, tonight, we were not able to generate any offense from our defense because they were very, very precise with the ball. … And that’s to their credit.”

Florida State opened the second half with a 10-point deficit, but, despite a better showing from its offense, could never get much closer.

A seven-minute FSU shooting drought midway through the second period helped Xavier steadily build its lead, and the Musketeers used a 14-6 run over the final few minutes to provide the final margin.

The game brought a difficult end to an otherwise memorable season.

With a final record of 26-9, the Seminoles fell just one win short of matching the school’s all-time mark for victories in a single season. 

FSU posted seven wins over ranked opponents, finished tied for second in the brutal Atlantic Coast Conference and matched its highest-ever seeding in the NCAA tournament.

The Seminoles afterward said that they’d one day be able to move past this loss and appreciate what they’ve accomplished over the last six months.

They only wished they didn’t have to do it so soon.

“I’m very happy – and I know Ojo is too,” said Jarquez Smith, one of two seniors playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time. “And as soon as we get over getting out of the tournament, as soon as we get over being sad, we’re going to look back and rejoice over how good we did this year.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 17, 2017 - 7:41 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

ORLANDO – Although they come from separate conferences and separate parts of the country and haven’t met on a basketball court in nearly 60 years, Florida State and Xavier both feel they have a good idea of what to expect from the other when they meet in the NCAA tournament Round of 32 on Saturday.

Xavier coach Chris Mack got plenty familiar with Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles during his time as an assistant (2001-04) at Wake Forest. And although much has changed in FSU’s program over the last 13 years – Hamilton himself didn’t arrive until 2002 – Mack can see one thing that hasn’t changed when he turns on the Seminoles’ film.

“It's amazing how Leonard Hamilton's teams play very, very hard all the time,” Mack said Friday. “I was an assistant at Wake Forest years ago, and that was always a trademark of his teams.”

FSU, meanwhile, can look at a pair of common opponents and get a feel for what the Musketeers do well.

Despite a 22-13 record and a 9-11 mark in its last 20 games, Xavier took down two ACC opponents – Clemson and Wake Forest – and they topped NCAA tournament team Butler in the Big East tournament last week.

And, of course, the 11th-seeded Musketeers upset No. 6-seed Maryland in the first round on Thursday.

“They do a great job of executing,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They get what they want every time down the court. They have guys inside. They have big, physical, strong guys inside. …
They're just a very solid team, and that's evident in the fact they played against a very good Maryland team. … They controlled the game.”

Video by Layne Herdt

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The Seminoles on Friday said they see shades of previous opponents in the Musketeers’ style.

FSU junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes said that Xavier’s physical, methodical style reminds him of Illinois, which the Seminoles beat in the NIT Tip-off back in November.

And senior Jarquez Smith said that Xavier’s talented post and deep playbook are reminiscent of Clemson, with Xavier standout Trevon Bluiett serving as the Musketeers’ version of Tigers star Jaron Blossomgame.

FSU swept Clemson during the regular season.

“They have bigs on the inside, they run a lot of set plays and they have a guy that can score the ball at will,” Smith said.

Blueitt, a 6-6, 198-pound guard from Indianapolis, averages 18.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. And, after missing his first seven shots from the field, Blueitt took over the Musketeers’ game against Maryland, where he scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half.

That includes a 5 of 10 mark from 3-point range, which either could be a potential outlier – Xavier doesn’t often rely on the long ball – or a preview of things to come against the Seminoles, who at times this season have been susceptible to deep shooting.

Hamilton called Blueitt an “unbelievable go-to guy.”

“He's been consistent all year long with coming up with big baskets,” he said.

That Xavier employs a 1-3-1 zone defense has also caught FSU’s attention, especially after the Seminoles went on a five-minute scoreless streak once Florida Gulf Coast switched to a zone on Thursday night.

But with what they said were first-game jitters out of the way, the Seminoles are confident that they can shoot the ball better on Saturday and be even sharper than they were against FGCU.

“We've just got to do what we've been doing all year,” Rathan-Mayes said. “Play defense at a high level, pressure the basketball and take them out of their sweet spots.

“If we can do that, I think we can be successful tomorrow night.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 17, 2017 - 6:56 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter

ORLANDO – At about 12:45 a.m. Friday morning, Jarquez Smith and the Florida State men’s basketball team made their way back to FSU’s hotel in downtown Orlando after beating Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Smith went up to his room, and, before bed, pulled out his iPad. Already waiting for him on the tablet was all the film, tendencies and scouting reports on Xavier that he could handle.

No. 3-seed FSU will meet 11th-seeded Xavier on Saturday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, which means the Seminoles don’t have a moment to lose in their preparations.

And thanks to the tireless efforts of FSU’s video operations staff, headed by director Dickey Nutt and assistant director Bobby Suarez, the Seminoles didn’t waste a single second.

“As we laid in our beds, getting ready to go to sleep, they already had things for us to watch on Xavier,” Smith said. “Plays they like to run, how their big guys like to rebound, what type of shots their guards take. Things that are going to happen in the game, and that we have to be prepared for.”

It’s one of the hallmarks of March Madness: quick turnarounds, unfamiliar opponents and coaching staffs scrambling between games to make sure their players are as ready as possible for what lies ahead.

For Florida State, however, it’s nothing new.

Throughout the season, Nutt, Suarez and a team of graduate assistants have downloaded, edited and repackaged film for every FSU opponent.

They’ll pore through as many as 10 of each team’s most recent games, with a scope as wide as offensive and defensive philosophies and as narrow as an individual player’s post moves or shooting techniques.

The goal is to be sure that the coaches and players never see anything in a game that catches them by surprise.

Safe to say it's worked: FSU's 26 wins this season are the second-most in school history, and the Seminoles are on the verge of a fifth appearance in the Sweet 16. 

“They do all the little things that people don’t see,” Smith said. “And it’s the little things that help us win games.”

Once the film is trimmed and ready, it’s then distributed digitally through Synergy Sports Technology, a web-based scouting service that’s used by every NBA team as well as several WNBA teams and NCAA programs.

Each player has the Synergy app on his iPad and can get new clips almost instantaneously.

“We have a lot of good equipment, to start with,” said Nutt, a former head coach at Arkansas State who joined FSU’s staff in 2015. “We’re able to go in and watch every NCAA basketball game in America. And right now, we’re zeroing in on the opponents in our brackets, that we could potentially play.”

Dickey Nutt helped lead Arkansas State to the NCAA tournament in 1999. He joined FSU's staff as video coordinator in 2015.

The Seminoles’ game against Xavier will come quickly, but the film and scouting work for the Musketeers has been finished for several days.

Suarez, a Florida Gulf Coast graduate in his fourth year at FSU, said the video staff divided its time evenly between FGCU, Xavier and Maryland once the NCAA tournament bracket was revealed.

“Ten minutes after, we left Buffalo Wild Wings (where the team held its watch party) and just started," Suarez said. "We started Xavier at the same time. Obviously, Florida Gulf Coast had first priority, but you have to hop on that.”

Suarez estimated that full scouting reports take about 12 hours per team to complete. And, in the case of the NCAA tournament, the video staff knows that several of those reports won’t be needed.

They’ve already discarded their work on Maryland, which was upset by Xavier on Thursday. And as Suarez turns his gaze toward other teams in the NCAA west region – work has already begun on Gonzaga, Arizona and Saint Mary’s – he knows that much of those efforts won’t ever see the light of day.

That said, there are worse ways to spend a few hours.

“I watch basketball all day, so that’s fun,” Suarez said with a laugh. “Nothing wrong with that.”

The video staff’s work might not show up on a TV broadcast or in a box score, but their efforts have hardly gone unnoticed in the FSU locker room.

Assistant coach Charlton Young, who handled scouting duties for Xavier, called Suarez’s and Nutt’s work “invaluable,” and compared the two to a fighter pilot’s wingmen.

The system works, Young said, because both Suarez and Nutt have an intimate knowledge of FSU’s system, and they can tailor every report to the tastes of whichever coach is scouting an individual opponent.

“Coach Nutt and Bobby, they already have three or four suggestions before I start my scout on what I should look for or look at,” Young said.

“Now, I may look at it and say, ‘No, fellas, that’s not what I’m looking for.’ Or I may look at it and say, ‘Man, you saved my life. That’s the answer.’ And that happens a bunch, because we’ve got a chemistry.”

And if there’s anything a coach or player wants that they don’t have, Suarez will get it to them in short order.

Perhaps the best aspect of the Synergy system is that it can be accessed from anywhere. Suarez can log in from home, pull the clip he needs and then send it through the cloud to a player waiting at his apartment.

Or, if need be, a hotel room in the middle of the night.

“Bobby and Coach Nutt do an amazing job for us,” FSU junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “They do such a great job of preparing us in the right ways and giving us all the right information that we need in order to be successful.

“Bobby's huge for us, and we're lucky to have a guy like that.”

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 17, 2017 - 12:00 am

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

ORLANDO – Terance Mann couldn’t see it, but he could hear it.

With a little more than a minute to go in the first half of Florida State’s game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament, FSU sophomore Dwayne Bacon went to the basket and threw down a one-handed jam that rivals any of the highlights he’s produced during his two seasons in Tallahassee.

That dunk, one of nine for FSU, stemmed the tide of an earlier FGCU run and helped propel the No. 3-seed Seminoles to an 86-80 victory over the 14th-seeded Eagles here at the Amway Center.

It also brought out the loudest roar from a lively crowd of 15,869 fans, most of which was evenly divided between FSU and FGCU supporters.

“I didn’t get to see it because everyone stood up,” Mann said with a laugh. “And I was looking over and I heard everybody go crazy. I saw where he took off from, and it was a big-time dunk.”

Dunk City, meet Dunk State.

Highlights

Video

FGCU earned its "Dunk City" nickname thanks to a high-flying style that sparked a surprise run to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

But in a matchup between two of three most dunk-heavy teams in the country, FSU out-dunked – as well as out-shot, out-rebounded, out-blocked and otherwise out-played – Florida Gulf Coast on the way to its first NCAA tournament win since 2012.

The Seminoles will meet No. 11-seed Xavier, which upset seventh-seeded Maryland earlier in the day, at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday.

“They’re ‘Dunk City,’ but I think our team leads the nation in dunks,” FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac said. “That’s what we do. We’re long and athletic, and we dunk the ball, too.”

 

Bacon’s dunk accounted for two of his 25 points, which led the team and marked his second-highest total of the year. Isaac added 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

“(Bacon) has been our go-to guy all year,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “… He made good decisions with the ball, and we’re going to need more of that from him as we move through the remainder of the tournament.”

Recap

Video  

FSU took advantage of the game’s frantic pace, capitalizing on its edges in speed, height, athleticism and depth to build a lead as big as 12 points near the end of the second half.

The Seminoles scored 12 fast-break to FGCU’s four, and also out-scored the Eagles in the paint, 44-36.

FGCU came into the game averaging more than 40 points per game in the paint, but struggled to find clean looks against an FSU defense that blocked nine shots.

As a result, The Eagles attempted 28 3-pointers. They came into the game averaging 18.

“Because they’re so big, it’s hard to finish at the rim,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. “We’ve been very good at points in the paint, but attacking the paint against those guys (is difficult).”

The game, however, did feature a few tense moments.

The Seminoles led by nine with 47 seconds to play, but saw their lead whittled away thanks to a handful of missed free throws.

FSU connected on just 61.5 percent of its free-throw attempts, and was 5 of 8 at the line in the game’s final minute.

The Eagles twice cut their deficit to five during that stretch but could get no closer.

“Obviously, when we hit our free throws we don’t have an issue,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We didn’t shoot free throws very well down the stretch. And if you don’t knock those free throws down, you can put yourself in a position where this stuff can happen.

“It makes everything look bad.”

Well, maybe not everything.

For long stretches on Thursday, Florida State looked every bit like the team that won 25 games and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

Despite a cold night from 3-point range, the Seminoles still finished 30 of 54 (55.6 percent) from the field and enjoyed a 46-26 rebounding advantage.

With their usual offense being funneled outside, the Eagles launched 70 shot attempts and made just 29.

“We had a little run there where we had about five or six stops in a row,” Hamilton said. “And we were able to get some separation.”

Next up for FSU is its first matchup with the Xavier Musketeers since 1958.

With Thursday’s game stretching until near midnight and postgame interviews creeping toward 1 a.m., the Seminoles will have about 36 hours to rest, regroup and prepare for an unfamiliar opponent.

Not that anyone in the Florida State locker room was complaining.

“That’s exactly what ‘March Madness’ is about, man,” Isaac said. “FGCU just gave us their best punch. We were able to withstand it, and we’ve got to go right back to the drawing board and take Xavier’s best punch.”

 

By Tim Linafelt
Posted March 15, 2017 - 8:47 pm

By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer

ORLANDO – Florida Gulf Coast might not have the same high-flying bunch that earned the “Dunk City” moniker on the way to the Sweet 16 in 2013, but the rims figure to be shaking nonetheless when the Eagles meet the Seminoles Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

With 328 dunks between them, FSU and FGCU are two of the three most dunk-heavy teams in the country. The Seminoles rank first with 171, while the Eagles’ 157 is third. Kentucky (164) is second.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” FSU sophomore Terance Mann said. “It’s going to be up-and-down, a lot of paint touches, a lot of kicks and drives and dunks, so it’s going to be a fun game to watch.”

With the potential for a lively crowd at the Amway Center – Orlando is almost evenly spaced between Tallahassee and Fort Myers – a steady diet of dunks could also swing the game in either team’s direction.

“The thing about dunks is it can bring a team up and it can bring a team down,” FSU senior Jarquez Smith said. “Say if we get a dunk and we make a run, it’s not good for them. But if they get dunks and make a run, it’s not a good thing for us. But it will be a very exciting game to watch.”

Familiar face on FGCU bench

Stan Jones always figured Michael Fly had a future in the coaching business.

He just might wish, for this week at least, that Fly’s career path had taken him elsewhere.

After three years as the Seminoles’ video coordinator (2008-11), Fly went with former FSU assistant Andy Enfield to Florida Gulf Coast, where he has served as an assistant coach ever since.

“Michael was a fantastic staff member for us in the three years he was with us,” Jones said. “When he went with Coach Enfield to start their tenure at Florida Gulf Coast, I knew he was going to be a superstar.”

So much so that when Enfield left FGCU for Southern California after two seasons, new Eagles coach Joe Dooley retained Fly on his staff.

That familiarity, though, has led the Seminoles to implement some new wrinkles for when they meet on Thursday.

“That’s my biggest worry about him being on their staff – he knows a little bit about us and they’re going to throw some stuff at us,” Jones said. “He kind of knows the inner workings of what we do, so we’ve kind of prepared against a few things, hoping to kind of be mind-readers and figure out what they’re going to do. Because Mike’s a superstar rising up in this business.”

Big Dance Steps
Florida State is set to appear in its 15th NCAA tournament and fifth under coach Leonard Hamilton. The Seminoles are 15-14 all-time in the tournament. … FSU is 8-6 all-time in the first round of the NCAA tournament. … FSU’s No. 3 seed matches its highest in school history (1992, 1993, 2012). … An FSU victory would give the Seminoles 26 for the season, moving them one behind the school record of 27 set in 1972. The ’72 Seminoles played for the national championship.

FSU in the NCAA tournament
1968: First Round
1972: National Final
1978: First Round
1980: Second Round
1988: First Round
1989: First Round
1991: Second Round
1992: Sweet Sixteen
1993: Elite Eight
1998: Second Round
2009: First Round
2010: First Round
2011: Sweet Sixteen
2012: Second Round
2017: vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Thursday, 9:20 p.m.

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