TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After seeing through Florida State’s lopsided win over Miami, and then meeting with reporters after the game, FSU freshman Patrick Williams planned to get together with some teammates and watch what’s always a marquee game on the college basketball calendar:
Duke vs. North Carolina.
Williams, and anyone else watching, was in for a hoops treat, as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils played a dramatic, back-and-forth affair that didn’t end until Wendell Moore Jr. made a game-winning putback layup as the clock expired in overtime.
The Seminoles, though, were more than just spectators. They’ll play at Duke on Monday in one of the biggest regular season games in the program’s recent history.
Yes, it will be the latest top-10 matchup in school history – the 12th ever and only the third since 1993.
But, when the No. 8 Seminoles and No. 7 Blue Devils (pending Monday’s new rankings) meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it will also have major implications on the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
The two teams have identical, 10-2 records in the league, which are tied for second and a game behind first-place Louisville.
The Seminoles, however, beat Louisville earlier this season and will host them for a rematch later this month.
Which means a victory at Duke – where they’ve won twice since joining the ACC in 1992 – would keep them in the heat of the race for their first conference regular season title.
“Obviously,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said, “we have a very important game coming up Monday (against) one of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of college basketball.”
They’ll have to prepare for it in short order.
FSU’s game against Miami ended at about 2 p.m. on Saturday, a little more than 48 hours before tip-off in Durham.
During the ensuing time frame, the Seminoles would rest, recover, hold a light practice and then a board a northbound plane.
Hardly an ideal circumstance under which to meet a top-10 team on the road, but also just a fact of life in modern college basketball.
Duke, after all, played even later on Saturday and on the road – albeit just a few miles from their home campus.
“That’s one of the things that, if I could change anything with college basketball, I wouldn’t want to play three games a week,” Hamilton said, “and I would never want to play a game with a one-day turnaround. That’s one of the things that is tremendously taxing on these young men.”
Hamilton at least has a team that is both mature and road-tested.
They’ve won at Louisville and Florida and benefitted from difficult environments at Indiana and Virginia.
“We have played a lot of tough games on the road,” Hamilton said. “In order to prepare for those road games, you have to come up with an approach that’s realistic. What we try to teach our guys is to stay in the moment and let the next practice be one that you demonstrate how much that you want to be successful. …
“What I am seeing with this team is that philosophy and focus is causing them to grow and mature and make the progress I think is necessary for us to hopefully, at some point, reach our full potential.”
Take Saturday’s win over Miami for example.
With their game at Duke looming and a floundering opponent on the opposing bench, a less mature team might have been tempted to peek past the Hurricanes – and risk an embarrassing setback.
But, after following behind early, the Seminoles stormed back and rolled to one of their most lopsided victories of the ACC season.
And right into a game that could define the rest of their campaign.
“We’re all just locked in because we know that we have bigger goals,” Williams said. “Duke is, I guess, a big game. I mean, every game is a big game for us, but I guess Duke is a big game. So people are already talking and stuff like that. But to us, it’s just another game where we have to go out and execute.
“To get where we want to go, we’ve got to win a game like this.”