TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s recent game at NC State had a different feel to it.
The Seminoles got off to a brisk start, playing efficient offense while throwing Wolfpack star Cat Barber out of rhythm on defense.
Not coincidentally, the result looked different too: The Seminoles won, 85-78, to break a three-game losing streak and earn their first ACC victory.
“There were some positive signs that at least we are getting there,” coach Leonard Hamilton said. “But it’s not time to take any bows. We’re making progress, but realistically I still see that we’ve got a long ways to go.”
They’ve got more difficult opponents ahead, too.
Up next is a date with Virginia No. 11, which got back on track with a 66-58 thumping of No. 9 Miami after two straight upset losses.
The Cavaliers have been a notoriously tough matchup for FSU in recent years, having won five straight and six of the last seven in the series.
Front and center is coach Tony Bennett’s “pack-line” defense, which is designed to put pressure on the ball and prevent penetration to the basket.
The Cavaliers boast one of the stingiest defenses in the nation – they rank 10thnationally with 60.7 points allowed per game – and they’ve allowed FSU to reach 60 points just once in the last seven meetings.
“You’ve got to be really patient with their defense,” FSU guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “They’re going to play a pack-line defense, they’re going to try to bait you into taking long, contested 3s all game. And you just can’t.”
Then again, Florida State has been considerably better on offense this season.
Bolstered by the freshman duo of Malik Beasley (17.1 ppg) and Dwayne Bacon (16.6 ppg), the Seminoles are scoring more than 80 points per game, something they’ve never done in a full season since Hamilton took over in 2002-03.
Rathan-Mayes believes that if the Seminoles can wait out the Cavaliers on the offensive end and not rush their shots, they’ll come out OK.
“If you move the ball back and forth, their defense kind of breaks down,” he said. “And that’s when we’re able to penetrate and kick and create for each other.”
After taking some midseason lumps – losses to ranked foes North Carolina and Miami, as well as to a Clemson team that upset Duke earlier this week – Hamilton hopes the young Seminoles are better acquainted with what it takes to be successful in the ACC.
“It’s hard when you’re dealing with guys who have not been there and done that,” Hamilton said, “guys who have not been a part of those experiences where you learn how to manage your emotions on the road or in those stressful-type moments during games.
“I think we’re getting there. I think they’re growing and learning.”
Which is good news, because more ranked opponents are on the horizon. After UVA, the Seminoles will visit No. 20 Louisville before returning home to face No. 17 Pittsburgh.