TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Seminoles.com) – In the span of four days late last week, the No. 15 Florida State men’s basketball team beat an Alabama-Birmingham team that won 20 games a year ago, then beat No. 19 Louisiana State and went toe-to-toe with defending champion Villanova before suffering its first defeat of the season.
And the Seminoles’ reward for navigating such a tough stretch is an ACC-Big Ten Challenge date with No. 19 Purdue on Wednesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
After playing two ranked teams, a talented mid-major and a defending champ, no wonder it feels a little bit like tournament time in November.
“It felt the exact same way,” FSU forward Mfiondu Kabengele said. “… Our preparation was very similar to March Madness. I felt like everyone was locked in for those games.”
And whereas less-experienced teams might use last week’s run as a springboard into the NCAA tournament, the Seminoles felt that last year’s tournament helped them find success against UAB, LSU and, to a degree, Villanova.
Take, for instance, the Seminoles’ game against LSU.
With a little more than three minutes to play, FSU trailed the Tigers by nine points and seemed on its way to a loss before rallying for an overtime victory.
For any Seminoles who were on last year’s team, the scenario felt familiar. FSU trailed top-seeded Xavier by as many as 12, and by nine with about five minutes to play, during the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The Seminoles then stormed back for a dramatic, 75-70 win.
“During the LSU game, it was almost the same as Xavier,” Kabengele said. “Everyone was communicative. A lot of talking, a lot confidence in the huddle. And I knew we were going to make a run. It was just a matter of when. It definitely felt similar.”
Those Seminoles, of course, followed that win with a victory over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
And although this year’s bunch lost during their last time out, they’re hoping that the positive momentum built can sustain them to another win over a quality opponent.
Purdue is off to a 5-1 start, although the Boilermakers lost to No. 16 Virginia Tech, 89-83, in what was so far they’re only game against a ranked opponent.
Purdue will get plenty of opportunities for high-profile wins in the weeks ahead, as their visit to FSU is the first of four consecutive games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (No. 15 FSU, No. 7 Michigan, No. 24 Maryland, No. 17 Texas).
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton believes the Boilermakers can more than hold their own.
“They’re similar, in many ways, to Villanova in terms of the culture they’ve built, the system that they utilize,” Hamilton said. “They’re not going to beat themselves.”
The Seminoles’ defense will face a stiff test in the form of Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, an AP preseason All-American and an early contender for national player of the year honors.
The 6-foot-1 junior ranks 10th nationally with 25.3 points per game, and he shoots 92.0 percent from the free-throw line.
And he’s the type of talent that the Seminoles will see regularly once conference play begins in January.
“There’s no doubt that it’s another typical, ACC-type of opponent that’s challenging for us this time of the season,” Hamilton said. “So it can’t do anything but help us.”