TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For a two-day stretch in late January, the Florida State and Tallahassee communities were focused almost exclusively on the hardwood.
Nearly 12,000 fans packed the Donald L. Tucker Center on Saturday afternoon to watch the FSU men’s team top rival Miami, 103-94, in overtime.
A day later, the crowd approached 10,000 as the eighth-ranked Florida State women hosted No. 5 Notre Dame.
For hoops fans, it was a celebration the likes of which aren’t often seen at a traditionally football-focused school like FSU, complete with dunks, 3-pointers and fans who stood and cheered at all the right moments.
“It was great for us to see the fans come to the game,” FSU guard Braian Angola said. “We see that the fans believe in us and trust us, and we just want to give the back what they want to see.”
Now, for an encore, how about an encore?
While much of the sporting world will be centered on college football’s National Signing Day on Wednesday (an unofficial holiday at FSU in recent years), both Seminole basketball teams are preparing for another turn in the limelight.
It starts on Wednesday, when the FSU men host second-ranked Virginia (7 p.m., RSN), which is 22-1 on the season and a staggering 11-0 in league play. And it continues on Thursday, when the FSU women meet a UVA team that they trail by one game in the ACC standings (7 p.m., ACC Network Extra).
“I was so thrilled with the people who came out in Tallahassee,” FSU women’s coach Sue Semrau said. “I was disappointed in how we played on the court (against Notre Dame) … but I’d like that opportunity again, and I think they (the players) would too.
“I think this is a huge growth in the program at Florida State.”
Added men’s coach Leonard Hamilton: “What we have to do is go out and continue to be as consistent as possible, so our fans will want to continue to support (us).”
Over the last two seasons, Hamilton’s bunch has been as consistently tough to play on its home floor as any team in the country.
The Seminoles went a perfect 18-0 at home a year ago, and they’ve got a 10-1 mark in the Tucker Center so far this season – their only blemish a 73-69 setback to Louisville in which they led for most of the game.
As the wins have piled up, the fans have packed in.
Average attendance at FSU men’s games has climbed in each of the last four seasons – from 6,285 in 2014 to 7,961 in 2017 – and is on pace to rise again this year.
That feat is impressive enough on its own, but even more so when considering that neither rival Florida nor hoops heavyweight Duke played in Tallahassee this season.
“It definitely feels good having the city kind of recognize that we’re a good team and seeing that they want to support us,” junior Terance Mann said. “I definitely notice a difference. A lot more people showing up, a lot more people up in the upper deck seats. And it brings a lot of energy to us, it’s like a sixth man.”
What would be the FSU men’s 11th home win of the season might be the most difficult to obtain.
Not only has Virginia reeled off a perfect record against ACC competition – including wins against No. 12 North Carolina, No. 18 Clemson and No. 4 Duke – but the Cavaliers have won eight of those 11 games by 10 or more points.
As usual, Virginia’s “pack-line” defense has produced one of the stingiest units in the country. UVA allows the fewest points per game of any team in college basketball (52.3, 4.5 points fewer than the next-best team) and ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage defense (37.4 percent).
Then again, perhaps the Seminoles know the secret to cracking the Cavs’ defenses – they’ve got a two-game winning streak over UVA and can win three straight in the series for the first time since a seven-game run between 2008-12.
“Virginia, they have a different style to them,” sophomore guard C.J. Walker said. “They’re a very good team, very well coached. I respect it, but everybody can be beaten.”
Semrau believes that her team could be in for a similar challenge.
While the UVA women don’t have the same lofty record as their counterparts on the men’s side, the Cavaliers still allow fewer than 60 points per game and surrender just 36.8 percent from the field.
“Defensively, they’re really impressive,” Semrau said. “Much like their men’s team, they really take a lot of pride in that end of the court.”