WATCH: Noles back on the road, headed for Hokies
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – How’s this for a role reversal? Earlier this week, Florida State and Virginia met on the basketball court, one with a No. 5 national ranking and the other looking for a marquee win that could boost its NCAA tournament resume.
The irony was not lost on Leonard Hamilton, whose Seminoles, riding a 10-game winning streak and boasting their highest national ranking in more than 50 years, left Charlottesville, Va., with a loss that, while disappointing for them, might also have marked a turning point in the season for the defending national champions.
Welcome to life as a top-tier program.
“It’s obvious to me that we are in the process of learning, and adjusting mentally and emotionally, to being hunted. And not the hunter,” Hamilton said.
“And I just feel that the last couple games that we’ve played … we haven’t quite made that adjustment.”
Indeed. Since serving notice to the country with a 13-point win at Louisville on January 4, the Seminoles (17-3, 7-2 ACC) have navigated an uneven run of form that saw them trailing in the second half at Wake Forest, and narrowly earning victories in their first meeting with Virginia, at Miami and at home against Notre Dame.
No coach will ever apologize for an ACC victory, no matter how close or hard-earned they were. But, after Notre Dame, Hamilton also cautioned that the Seminoles would need to tighten up, lest their late-game luck run out.
Tuesday in Charlottesville, it did.
FSU and Virginia played to 11 ties and seven lead changes, and the Seminoles held a three-point lead with about two minutes to go.
But when the margins are fine, it’s easy to fall on the wrong side of them. And FSU did just that by not scoring over the final 2:13 of the game.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t play hard,” Hamilton said. “But it wasn’t as obvious to me, in these last couple games, that the moment was the most important thing going on in our lives. …
That said, Hamilton still isn’t too worried about his team’s big-picture future.
“I guess you can call that a dip,” he said, “but I’m not real sure it’s something to be overly concerned with – as long as we identify it.”
The Seminoles will get a chance to show how much progress they’ve made in that regard on Saturday, when they visit the Virginia Tech Hokies for the first time in more than two years.
The Hokies (14-7, 5-5 ACC) have lost three of their last four, but generally seem to be moving in the right direction under first-year coach Mike Young.
College hoops fans will remember White as the coach who guided Wofford to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2019, and who nearly beat Kentucky to advance to the Sweet 16.
Young’s teams rely heavily on shooting 3-pointers and taking care of the ball, and the Hokies are no different. Virginia Tech leads the ACC in 3-pointers attempted (580) and made (216), and its 37.2 percentage is second in the league only to Louisville, which has shot 137 fewer 3s.
The Hokies also rank third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58) and give the ball away an average of just 9.8 times per game.
“When you watch the film, you see their uncanny ability to shoot the ball well from the perimeter, their ability to handle pressure and not turn the ball over,” Hamilton said.
“They’ve proven they’re more than capable.”
But Hamilton also believes that the Seminoles have shown themselves to be capable of responding to a setback in a positive fashion.
After all, they haven’t lost consecutive games since January of last year.
“If you go back and look at the history of our program, we normally bounce back,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think there’s been a time when we’ve allowed ourselves to wallow in self-pity.”
Besides, having finally suffered a loss for the first time since early December, the Seminoles believe they still have some more hunting to do.
“We want to win the national championship. We want to be a 1-seed (in the NCAA tournament),” redshirt sophomore RaiQuan Gray said. “We’re not the No. 1 team in the country, and obviously we just lost last week. So we still have stuff to prove.”