TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Leonard Hamilton implored the importance of defensive improvement prior to Florida State’s game at Wake Forest on Wednesday.
If his players didn’t believe him then, they certainly do now.
Florida State saw its three-game winning streak halted in a 76-72 loss at Wake, and although the final score is relatively modest, a review of the game film showed the same thing over and over:
“It was mostly our defense,” senior Phil Cofer said. “Just little stuff.”
“We’ve got to play more aggressive defense,” junior Terance Mann added. “I think we were real passive in terms of defense in the Wake Forest game.”
While the Seminoles rank second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in points per game (85.7), they also are second-to-last in points allowed (74.1).
That number will likely have to improve in short order if the Seminoles are to successfully navigate a difficult upcoming stretch that starts with a visit to Louisville on Saturday (noon, ACC Network Extra).
FSU will look to avenge a loss in their first meeting with the Cardinals, a 73-69 setback on Jan. 10 in which the Seminoles led by 13 points at halftime. The Seminoles won their only previous rematch of the season last week against Miami.
“We’ve got to have the same energy for 40 minutes,” Mann said. “I think the last time we played them, we had positive, good energy and a lot of concentration for only the first half.
“The second half they kind of battled back and took over the game.”
While No. 2 Virginia has separated itself from the ACC pack – the Cavaliers have a three-game lead at the top of the standings – the Seminoles (5-5 in league play) and Cardinals (6-3) are each part of big logjam in the race for second.
All told, eight of the league’s 15 teams have between five and seven wins in the conference.
For Florida State, Saturday’s contest represents a chance to keep its nose above the .500 mark after spending much of January digging itself out of a hole.
FSU started 2-4 in the ACC, then reeled off three straight wins prior to Wednesday’s loss at Wake.
And given that the Seminoles host No. 2 Virginia next week, any opportunity to stay on the right side of that line is valuable.
“Any game after a loss, you feel more motivated to play harder,” Mann said. “Especially that we’re .500 now. We were way below .500 and we worked so hard to get back, and even over. It’s a big-time game for us to try to get over .500.”
FSU will be looking for bounce-back efforts from both Mann and senior guard Braian Angola, who average nearly 30 combined points per game but put up only 12 at Wake.
Louisville, meanwhile, leans heavily on the forward combo of Deng Adel (15.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Ray Spaldin (11.2, 9.2), while Quentin Snider (12.8 ppg, 4.0 apg) leads the backcourt.