TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With a wave of new players leading Florida State to new heights seemingly every time they play, it was a stalwart senior who gave the Seminoles the boost they needed during Tuesday’s 88-72 victory over Duke.
Jarquez Smith, a senior forward who averages about 14 minutes per game off the bench, did a little bit of everything against the Blue Devils.
He scored eight points on 4 of 7 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, blocked three shots and made one steal.
Smith even channeled his inner Steve Nash with a beautiful dart of an assist from the top of the key early in the game.
It was the kind of play that 6-foot-9, 236-pound forwards don’t often make.
“I thought Jarquez was tremendous,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought he played big-boy basketball tonight. He gave us great energy. He gave us a big presence on the floor.”
His teammates noticed, too.
After the game, in a locker room delirious after a double-digit win over one of the college basketball’s blue-blood programs, junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes put a pause on the celebrations to make sure that Smith got his due.
“I told everybody just to calm down for a second,” Rathan-Mayes said. “And I looked at ‘Quez’ and I said, ‘Welcome back.’”
Welcome back indeed. In the span of six games between Nov. 8 and Dec. 31, Smith scored no more than two points – including back-to-back zeroes against Manhattan and Samford – and maxed out at just five rebounds.
But Smith is showing signs of heating up: Prior to his outburst at Duke, Smith had 12 points, four boards and two blocks in FSU’s 93-78 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“That’s a guy that we need,” Rathan-Mayes said. “He’s so special. He’s so athletic. He’s so talented. And when he plays the way he did (against Duke), it ignites all of us. We just need ‘Quez’ to play like that every single night.”
With a 16-1 record and a No. 9 national ranking, it’s hard to imagine the Seminoles playing at a much higher level.
But a productive and consistent Smith might be one way to get there.
Outside of redshirting freshman Mfiondu Kabengale, no one else on FSU’s roster can quite match Smith’s blend of height and weight. And when he’s playing with high energy and a mean streak, as he was on Tuesday night, he can be a handful for any opponent.
Just ask the Blue Devils, who could only watch as Smith blocked an alley-oop attempt from Duke’s Jayson Tatum and pushed it ahead to Bacon for an easy layup that was part of a 10-0 FSU run early in the second half.
And that happened just moments after he threw down an uncontested dunk.
“It was unconscious at first,” Smith said of his big night, “until my teammates started notifying me when I came back to the bench that I was giving them a lot of energy.
“Once they told me that, I kind of picked it up from there.”
No one on Florida State’s roster has yet played in the NCAA tournament. But Smith, one of just two seniors on the roster, has had a longer wait than most.
The Seminoles still have 14 regular-season games to play, which means their hot start is just that – a hot start.
Still, with how hot it’s been, it can be hard not to peak at what lies ahead. Especially given that FSU has one of the most impressive resumes in the country.
Hamilton said that thought seemed to inspire Smith, who would like to make his last year at Florida State one to remember.
“He played like a senior that was hungry, that had not been to the NCAA tournament and was wanting to make sure that he did everything he could to see that we won the game,” Hamilton said. “So I was very proud of him.”