Nov. 14, 2000
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Delvon Arrington knows the importance of first impressions. For Florida State and Arrington, the time is now. The Seminoles have an opportunity to establish the season’s tone in Friday’s opener against state rival Florida.
The challenge starts immediately.
“If we win this Florida game, I think we will change a lot of people’s minds in Tallahassee and everywhere else,” Arrington said.
“Then they will see what Florida State is about. That’s why we are focusing so much on this Florida game because I think it’s going to be one of our best games for fans, for support, all types of stuff. There’s more to it than just the game. This is a great opportunity for us.”
FSU had hoped for a quick start last season in Gainesville, but the Gators embarrassed the Seminoles 96-61. From that point on, the two teams headed in opposite directions. UF finished 29-8, losing to Michigan State in the national championship game. Plagued by inconsistency and a lack of depth, FSU coughed and sputtered to its second consecutive losing season. While FSU features more youth than experience this season, the Seminoles have high hopes. And they would love nothing more than to use the Gators as a measuring stick.
Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. The showdown is the night before the two football rivals tangle in Doak Campbell Stadium.
“As everyone knows, this is a young team, but they are very motivated and they want to learn,” Arrington said. “I think we are going to get there. I think we are going to be ready for that Florida game and come out here to show what we are ready to do this year.”
UF lost three of its top four scorers from last season’s team. Besides center Udonis Haslem (11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), UF’s top returning scorers are guard Teddy Dupay (8.6 ppg) and forward Brent Wright (8.3 ppg). The Gators are ranked 11th nationally.
FSU, meanwhile, returns just two starters from last year’s team — Arrington and wing guard Adrian Crawford, who is healed from chronic knee pain that limited him to 15 games last season. The Seminoles are rated 82nd in the Sagarin preseason basketball rankings, a numerical measure of a team’s strength.
Crawford, who scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field in FSU’s 87-85 exhibition victory over the One World All-Stars last Thursday in the Civic Center, believes the Seminoles will surprise opponents this season. FSU was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference by the media.
“With this team, you are going to have to give us everything you got to knock us out,” Crawford said. “We have a bunch of guys who don’t want to lose. We are going to do whatever it takes.”
The Seminoles showed their tenacity against the One World All-Stars, blowing a 14-point lead in the game’s final three minutes, only to win it at the end on a Nigel Dixon layup and a superb defensive play by freshman forward Michael Joiner at the buzzer. Nine FSU players registered double-digit minutes and scored at least three points.
Arrington added 17 points and 11 assists with three turnovers. But it was his play in the closing minute that helped shape the Seminoles’ victory. After being stripped in the backcourt — a turnover that led to an easy basket that tied the game at 85-all — Arrington answered.
Taking the ball full-court, Arrington dumped a bounce pass into Dixon, who turned and banked in a driving layup to put FSU in front, 87-85. On the defensive end as time expired, Joiner blocked an off-balance drive by Mike Campbell, who finished with a game-high 31 points.
A negative was turned into a positive.
“It was very important, just to show the fans and the coaches that we are capable of winning down the stretch and under pressure,” Arrington said. “I think it’s good for us to know that we can finish late in the game. I think this was a good win for us. I think it gave us a test. I think we defended it well, but I think we have to get better also. I am just glad we came out with the win. It was a good test for us, one that will make us better in the long run.”
The run begins with the Gators. FSU’s November schedule also features a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout, where FSU opens with Ohio State, and a home game against Minnesota on ESPN Nov. 29. December home dates include Furman, South Florida, Jacksonville, Binghamton and Morgan State.
“I felt like the past couple of years we’ve had a very tough schedule,” Crawford said. “You can’t go against top-25 teams every night because it will wear you down, physically and mentally. It’s important that we get off to a good start. From top to bottom, this team is going to battle. We have to play hard every night.”
The ACC also is expected to be difficult. Five ACC teams are ranked, including No. 2 Duke and No. 4 North Carolina.
FSU coach Steve Robinson, meanwhile, likes his team’s makeup. Younger players such as Joiner, point guard Ryan Lowery, wing guard Andrew Wilson and guard/forward Monte Cummings have showed promise.
“The younger guys have been working extremely hard,” Arrington said. “This is a new team, and these guys are able to step in and do the things people were doing last year, but better. We’re going to have more versatility. We have more people who are going to score and play defense.”
Still, questions loom. The post has been handled by Nigel Dixon, Mike Mathews and David Anderson. Dixon averaged more than 20 minutes in FSU’s Garnet & Gold game and last week’s exhibition. Mathews has displayed flashes, though he was plagued by foul trouble against the One World All-Stars. Anderson, meanwhile, is off to a slow start after injuring his hamstring in the offseason while water skiing.
FSU out-rebounded the perimeter-heavy All-Stars, 37-25.
“It’s very important for somebody to step up at the post,” Arrington said. “We’ve been lacking in the post for awhile. I think Nigel has been doing a good job and he’s getting better every day. His first year (last season), I think he didn’t know what he was really getting into. I think he knows there is no time to rest and he has to be working every day and every night to be better, and he has done that.”
FSU has been working, too. The journey starts against UF.
By Jim Henry of the Osceola Staff