HARTFORD, Conn. – They all wore “MC” badges on their warm-up shirts and jerseys.
Some, like Terance Mann, wrote Michael Cofer’s name, along with a Bible verse, on their shoes.
Every member of Florida State’s basketball team found a way to honor the memory of Mike Cofer on Saturday night, whether inward or outward.
And perhaps the best way of all came on the court, where the Seminoles made quick work of Murray State to ensure that Mike’s son, Phil, will write at least one more chapter in his college basketball career.
With Phil Cofer encouraging his teammates from the bench, a little more than 48 hours after learning that his father, Mike, had died after a lengthy illness, Florida State topped the Racers, 90-62, to clinch a spot in next week’s Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is optimistic that Cofer will recover soon enough from a foot injury to play again this season, maybe even as soon as Thursday against Gonzaga.
For now, though, both the coach and his players were happy to provide an evening of relief from a most difficult week.
Terance Mann’s shoes tonight: pic.twitter.com/aPx7vGd51y
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 24, 2019
“It means a lot to us,” said Mann, who had 18 points and eight rebounds against the Racers. “It means a lot to us to try and play hard for him. We knew how much of a fighter he was. We kind of wanted to embody that.”
Safe to say they did.
Mike Cofer played linebacker at Tennessee and for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, with whom he racked up 62.5 sacks and a 1988 Pro Bowl selection over the course of an 11-year career.
On Saturday night, the Seminoles were tough, aggressive and physical in handling one of their most difficult defensive assignments of the year.
Sure, they’d seen plenty of high-level players in the ACC, including presumed No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.
But they hadn’t seen anything quite like Ja Morant.
Murray State’s point guard can score from anywhere on the floor, and he makes the types of passes usually reserved for NBA all-stars.
And, after dismantling Marquette on Thursday, he had become one of the early stories of the NCAA tournament.
“With social media, it’s kind of hard not to hear it,” FSU’s Anthony Polite said. “But we just stayed focused on us and what we do.”
No, a tragedy within their inner circle didn’t propel the Seminoles to magically play better on Saturday night.
But given all that Cofer had been through, and all that they’d felt with him and for him, they were hardly about to let themselves get embarrassed, either.
“I think that’s why you saw our guys so focused,” Hamilton said. “… And I think the night was in response to the respect we had for Murray State, but also the respect we had for Mr. Cofer. And we wanted him to be happy with the way we performed tonight.”
Added Mann: “We’re playing for a bigger purpose at that point.”
And from this point forward.
The Seminoles will leave Hartford on Sunday morning, spend a day in Tallahassee and then get right back on the road for the Sweet 16, needing just two more victories to advance to FSU’s second-ever Final Four.
Phil Cofer, in the meantime, will head home to be with his family before re-joining his teammates for the rest of their tournament run.
If Cofer returns to the lineup, and Hamilton seemed to think that he might, it would make for perhaps the most emotional moment of this year’s NCAA tournament.
But even if he doesn’t, the Seminoles have left no doubt that both Phil and Mike Cofer will be with them for every step of their journey.
“The kids wanted to dedicate the remainder of the season to Mike Cofer,” Hamilton said. “And I think a lot of the energy they played with tonight, and the emotion that they displayed, was a result of that true commitment.”