TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On the road again.
No. 14 Florida State travels north to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday for an ACC tilt with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Seminoles (21-4, 9-3 ACC), winners of the three straight, hope to have found their stride as they prepare for another contest away from home.
“I feel that we’re making progress,” coach Leonard Hamilton said Friday. “I think the mindset, the whole development process we’re going through, the maturation process is moving in the right direction.”
FSU last went on the road for a three-game road trip and dropped two tough contests to Georgia Tech and Syracuse before rebounding with a big win over Miami.
Now a couple of weeks older and wiser, the Noles feel they are better prepared to bringing the energy required to win on the road.
“Sometimes you have to touch a hot stove to realize it’s hot,” Hamilton said. “The competitive spirit these guys have I think helped them bounce back (at Miami). I think we’ve grown up and that we have a clearer understanding of the approach we have to have each night out.”
Prior to the string of away games, the Seminoles were remarkable against six straight top 25 teams, one of the toughest stretches any team has had to go through in ACC history.
With the amount of energy and preparation needed to go 5-1 in those six games, a slight mental letdown might have been inevitable. This year, college basketball has seen almost all its best teams struggle on the road.
“That six-game gauntlet probably had more of an effect than I even wanted to acknowledge,” Hamilton said. “Our guys were so emotionally invested, that I thought coming out of it maybe psychologically took us down a notch.”
A switch flipped at Miami last week, however, as Florida State dominated the Hurricanes in the second half on its way to a 75-57 win. The commitment to detail seemed to return and the Seminoles’ depth found itself working magic once again.
The matchup against the Irish presents another challenge, facing a team for the second time in a season. Notre Dame (18-7, 7-5 ACC) will unquestionably be fired up to play the Seminoles again at home, especially with how the last matchup went in Tallahassee.
“The last game was such a grind against them,” Hamilton said. “A possession by possession, back and forth dog fight, right to the end.”
Jonathan Isaac’s 23 points and 10 rebounds led Florida State to an 83-80 win over the Irish on Jan. 18. The freshman also recorded seven blocks, with two coming in the most crucial seconds of the game. After a Notre Dame 3-pointer cut the lead to three with six seconds to go, the Irish stole the inbounds pass and had a chance for another bucket and possibly a chance to tie the game. Isaac responded with two straight blocks at the rim to preserve the Seminoles’ victory.
“The biggest challenge against Notre Dame (defensively) is to technically execute,” Hamilton said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
In Tallahassee, the Irish were a ridiculous 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) from beyond the arc. It was that proficiency from deep that allowed the visitors to nearly escape with a win.
This time, FSU hopes to tighten up its perimeter defense.
“For the most part, they do the best job in the country of creating high-percentage shots for their team,” Hamilton said. “We can’t leave them as open as we left them the last time we played.”
The Seminoles have an opportunity to bolster an already impressive resume for the NCAA tournament. A road win at Virginia gave FSU a feather in its cap, while the road win over Miami reassured a group of its abilities as a unit. Saturday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN, the Noles will take center stage in hopes of making another statement against a quality opponent.
“Notre Dame has improved in certain areas like we have (since the last meeting),” Hamilton said. “The reality is that we have to go in with our boxing gloves on and be ready to play a good basketball team on the road.”
– Sophomore guard, Dwayne Bacon (17.6 ppg) was named a top 20 finalist for the Wooden Award and a top 30 candidate for the Naismith Award, given to the best player in college basketball each year.
– With another 10-point game, Bacon would extend his streak to 35 consecutive games in double figures.
– FSU enters the game against Notre Dame with an RPI of 6 and a Strength of Schedule (SOS) of 24 per WarrenNolan.com. Additionally, FSU has a record of 8-1 vs. the RPI Top 50. The Irish come into the contest vs. FSU with an RPI of 27.
– The Seminoles have scored at least 95 points in two straight contests. The last team in the ACC to do it three straight times, was FSU back in 1993.