Jan. 6, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida State men's basketball team capped off its pre-conference schedule with arguably its best all-around game of the season. But beating Auburn, 85-56, to snap a two-game losing streak is one thing. Tipping off the gauntlet that is the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule is another.
Riding the momentum of that win over the Tigers, the 'Noles now play the Tigers from the ACC when they take on Clemson Saturday at 4 p.m. in LitteJohn Coliseum.
The game in South Carolina will be the first of an especially-difficult three-game slate. After taking on Clemson, FSU plays at Virginia Tech and then welcomes No. 3/4 North Carolina to town on Jan. 14.
It's a stretch of three games and a season-long grind that the Seminoles are ready for.
"Fortunate for us, we've had some tough stretches up to this point," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "However, stakes are higher once you start conference play. I think the challenge of our pre-conference schedule has been at such a level and has challenged us that I've just kind of got a feeling that our guys are going to be a lot more prepared because there's going to be a sense of urgency.
"We are in a similar position that we were in at this time last year needing to win an exceptional amount of college games in order to have postseason life available for us at the end of the season.
At 9-5 on the season and 0-2 on the road, the Seminoles don't have the built-in luxury of dropping too many in-conference games.
"It's very important -- not only to get off to a good start but we kind of got ourselves in a pickle here," senior guard Luke Loucks said. "Really, there is no room for error anymore. We can't give away any game. Pretty much every game from here on out is a must win for us. I am not saying we are going to go 16-0 in the ACC but that's how we've got to approach every game because we can't give any of these games away."
The challenge of starting the league year with a win comes with an added demon to exorcise.
The Tigers have won three of the last four games in the series and are 15-7 all-time against the Seminoles at home. Over the last six seasons, FSU is 21-27 in conference road games -- a mark that is actually the third-best in the ACC behind Duke and North Carolina.
"We'd definitely like to turn that around," Hamilton said Thursday.
At 8-6 on the season, Clemson has had its struggles. The Tigers dropped games to College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina in November and then sustained a four-loss month of December with setbacks against South Carolina, Arizona, UTEP and Hawaii.
Clemson is led by senior point guard Andre Young, who averages a team-best 12.9 points per game. Devin Booker mans the inside where the 6-foot-8 forward scores 11.1 points per game and grabs 6.9 rebounds per contest.
"We've got to guard their penetration," junior guard Michael Snaer said. "Their point guard is smaller and he can get into the paint. He's given us a lot of trouble in the past. The second thing that we have to do is guard their 3-point shooters. We can't let their shooters get off. The ACC is a ball-screen league so we've also got to concentrate on how we are guarding our ball screens and making sure we are getting up to the level of the screens and doing all the little things well."
Florida State did those little things well in the win over Auburn. The 'Noles scored a season high 85 points thanks to an offense that flowed smoother and ran more efficiently than it had all season.
A defense-first team, FSU switched its offensive gameplan and executed it perfectly in the win. Instead of running the offense through their big men in the paint, the Seminoles let their trio of 6-foot-11 post players crash the offensive glass.
"We used a different approach," Hamilton said. "We didn't run things through them nearly as much. And they seemed to be more comfortable contributing on putbacks and runouts and offensive rebounds -- things of that nature."
"We went into Auburn saying this is a must win and there's no room for error," Loucks added. "I think we really played with a lot of passion [Wednesday] and it showed. To have that momentum going into conference play it'll help."