TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Xavier Rathan-Mayes has had more than a few moments in his career when he has turned opposing defenses into helpless spectators.
As a freshman he unloaded 35-point performances on the road at North Carolina and Miami. The difference between those two jaw-dropping demonstrations and the redshirt junior point guard’s effort Tuesday night was the outcome.
Rathan-Mayes scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half, lifting ninth-ranked Florida State to a convincing 88-72 win over No. 6 Duke in front of a sold out Donald L. Tucker Center crowd.
Rolling to their school-record 12th consecutive victory, the Seminoles moved to 16-1 on the year and more importantly, 4-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play and alone atop the league standings.
In the middle of it all was Rathan-Mayes, the player who very nearly left after last season to chase his dream of playing professionally and returned bent on becoming a more complete player than the one capable of carrying his team offensively, but unable to deliver wins on his own.
On a deep and balanced team where he doesn’t have to do more than play his part, Rathan-Mayes did just that as the Seminoles dismantled the Blue Devils in every conceivable way.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” Rathan-Mayes said following the victory. “This is the closest I’ve been to a group of guys…It’s fun being around these guys and having special moments with them; creating special moments. Hopefully we continue to do that.”
For a guy whose coaches and teammates simply refer to as X, the Duke game has been marked on his calendar since last season’s meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium when he was intentionally tripped by notorious Blue Devils’ guard Grayson Allen.
“This one was personal for me,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to see him again. He’s a great player…
“Grayson Allen is the head of the snake for Duke. As he goes they go. I wanted to be able to take him out of the game early; I wanted to be able to frustrate him and make him second-guess things that he was doing on the floor. I think I did a good job of that. It kind of kick-started our offense.”
Locked in defensively from the start against Duke’s point guard, he spent the first half harassing the least favorite player in the arena.
“He told me at the beginning of the year that he was going to take pride in playing hard D,” FSU teammate Terance Mann said of Rathan-Mayes. “He wants to be All-Defensive first team. When he does that, we feed off of it and start playing Junkyard D.
“I definitely saw it [tonight]. One time I was in front of Grayson and he said, ‘Move over. I’ve got it.’ He did a great job.”
Allen was not his usually efficient self, committing three of Duke’s 16 turnovers, which the Seminoles converted into 22 points. Just 2-of-6 shooting from the floor – 0-of-3 from beyond the arc – Allen finished with just nine points on a night when the Blue Devils struggled to find a rhythm offensively, especially in the second half.
The Seminoles led 41-37 at the half with modest statistical contributions from Rathan-Mayes (three points).
The second half, however, was a different story altogether for the Canadian native, who put the Blue Devils on ice when he scored 14 consecutive points and capped his personal highlight reel with a lob pass that freshman Jonathan Isaac slammed home for an 82-66 lead with 3:29 remaining.
“We have been trying to get that type of aggressiveness the entire game,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “X came back in [and] he was fresh. I thought we did a very good job of executing. This team has struggled somewhat attacking off the dribble consistently…During that period in the game when we took the lead I thought we executed our offense very well. We were very aggressive, we moved the ball and set very good screens.”
That five-minute flurry, which followed shortly after the Noles erased a 50-48 deficit with a Dwayne Bacon-ignited 10-0 run, was all the Noles needed to set off a celebration in the stands among fans who had waited 24 seasons since the last meeting between top-10 teams at the Tucker Center.
“The thing that was even more special was the guys and the camaraderie that we have, coming to me and telling me, ‘Take us home X; keep leading us,’” Rathan-Mayes said. “That’s just our team. That’s our DNA. That’s what we are built off of.
“Two games before it was Bacon closing the game for us. Bacon and I have grown…Tonight, he deferred off the ball and said, ‘X go make plays for us.’ When it’s his time, I do the same thing for him. That’s our maturity.”
Bacon and Mann pitched in 13 points apiece for the Noles, while Isaac added 11.
“We got beat by a very, very good basketball team,” interim Duke coach Jason Capel said, before specifically addressing Rathan-Mayes’ contributions.
“He made some really tough shots over us and he got into the paint. He’s a really good player and he’s gotten better over time.”
And so have the Seminoles.
“We’re pretty freakin’ good if we haven’t proven that already,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this position. In the offseason we put in so much work…We lock it in every single day. Our motto is, ‘One Day at a Time.’ We’ve really taken that to heart and focused in and focused on the little things. It has been taking us a long way.”