TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Going on the road has proven perilous in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, and the Florida State men’s basketball team is not immune.
Headed into the week, ACC teams were a combined 22-44 on the road in conference games, with only three teams (Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame) having winning road records and another three (Clemson, Boston College and Pittsburgh) still winless.
FSU has felt the sting of road woes recently. Despite their 18-4 record, the Seminoles are 1-4 away from home, a mark which includes all three conference losses.
And back-to-back losses to unranked Georgia Tech and Syracuse last week have taken some wind out of FSU’s sails after it climbed to No. 6 in the national polls following a run of five wins in six straight games against ranked teams.
The Seminoles recognize that struggling away from home is commonplace in the ACC, but that’s little consolation: Neither the ACC or NCAA tournaments will be played in Tallahassee, so, if the Seminoles are to get where they want to go, they’ll have to find a way to win on the road.
They’ll get their next crack at it Wednesday night, when they visit Miami at the Watsco Center (8 p.m., ACC Network Extra). The Hurricanes (14-6, 4-4 ACC) are a perfect example of the league’s home-road dynamic: 3-1 at home, 1-3 on the road. And they throttled North Carolina, 77-62, at home their last time out.
“Championship programs win on the road, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “We had a good win earlier in the year at Virginia. I think we know how to win on the road.”
Getting off to better starts would be a great place to start.
In four conference road games, the Seminoles have trailed at halftime by an average of 15 points, numbers skewed heavily by deficits of 26 and 18 points at Georgia Tech and Syracuse, respectively.
While the Seminoles have typically been better in second halves, they’ve often found themselves in a hole too deep. Case in point, Saturday at Syracuse, when FSU cut its deficit to just two points on five separate occasions in the second half, but never could complete the comeback.
“I thought we played a little better in the second half, but not enough to win games and that’s all that’s important,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “You can’t a dig hole for yourself and then expect to climb out of it. That’s not an easy task.”
To some degree, the Seminoles may have been victims of their own success.
They entered the season relatively under the radar, but, steadily garnered national attention after a series of high-profile wins over Florida, Virginia and Duke.
By the time FSU visited North Carolina on Jan. 14, any chance of catching opponents off-guard was gone.
And when the Seminoles went to Georgia Tech and Syracuse, they did so with a target squarely on their backs.
“When you’re ranked in the top 10 in the country, that means everybody has elevated their focus (for you),” Hamilton said. “Your opponents’ practices are more focused. Their energy is more focused. Their fans are more excited and you have to learn how to protect that.
“I don’t think we played less. But we have to have more. We got a real taste of that this week and hopefully we’ll respond as we move to our next game.”
The Hurricanes have been uneven this year, having lost a pair of games to Wake Forest and Boston College, both of which occupy the bottom third of the league standings.
But if ever there was a signal for a turnaround, it came Saturday, when UM built a lead as big as 22 points on the way to a lopsided victory over UNC.
Miami freshman Bruce Brown scored 30 points to topple the Tar Heels and raise his season average to 12.1 points per game. Combine that with 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, and Brown, a Boston native, has the Seminoles’ full attention.
“He’s the real deal,” Hamilton said. “He’s athletic. He’s a fierce competitor. He takes you off the dribble. He’s strong, he can get to the basket and he can defend.”
While the hoops rivalry between FSU and UM is not as intense as football or baseball, the Seminoles are still looking to reverse some recent fortunes against the Hurricanes.
Since beating Miami at the ACC tournament in 2012, the Seminoles are just 2-6 against the Hurricanes. They last won at the Watsco Center (formerly the BankUnited Center) on Jan. 14, 2014.
So Wednesday’s game offers two opportunities for the Seminoles: Win on the road, and do it at Miami’s expense.
“We stumbled a little bit, but I think we’re alright,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We’re right where we need to be. We’re still in a good position to be successful. Our hopes and dreams are still there.”