After the nearly 2 1/2-hour basketball game wrapped up on Thursday just before the clock struck midnight, Florida State was able to walk off the court at Orlando’s Amway Center with its head held high.
The third-seeded Seminoles held off a late, aggressive comeback bid from 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast to preserve an 86-80 victory. Now, attention quickly shifts to Saturday’s game against No. 11 seed Xavier.
A lot of FSU’s flaws were exposed in the first-round game. The Seminoles (26-8) only made two of their 13 three-point attempts. They only made 61.5 percent of their free throws. They turned the ball over 16 times. But in the end, Florida State played to its advantages, using its height and domination in the paint to advance.
“I think what this team has done is we figure out ways to win,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We have a lot of holes in our game, but this team’s well-connected. They like each other. We have great camaraderie and togetherness.”
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It’s a sign of the team’s evolving culture, Hamilton and his players have said, that is fueling Florida State as it tries to earn a berth in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.
For a team without a player who had NCAA Tournament experience heading into the weekend, Florida State believes it’s already on the right track, especially after its performance on Thursday.
“I think we took that first step a long time ago,” freshman forward Jonathan Isaac said. “When we first got together, we talked about changing what Florida State is about. This is just the back end of what we’ve done.”
It will continue against Xavier, which has reached the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the past 12 seasons, including seven of eight under current coach Chris Mack.
The Musketeers (22-13) are coming off a 76-65 upset of sixth-seeded Maryland on Thursday and are led by junior Trevon Bluiett.
The 6-6 shooting guard scored 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the win over the Terrapins and is averaging a team-high 18.2 points heading into the matchup with the Seminoles.
FSU guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes likened Xavier to Illinois because of their physicality and methodical approach on offense. The Seminoles won that game 72-61.
“We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing all year, play defense at a high level, pressure the basketball and take them out of their sweet spots,” Rathan-Mayes said. “If we can do that, I think we can be successful.”
To do that, Hamilton said, it will require a team effort on the defensive front to stop a team averaging 75.3 points over its past seven games.
“They’re just a very solid team,” Hamilton said, “and that’s evident in the fact they played against a very good Maryland team. … That speaks for itself.”
The Seminoles plan to counter with their front-loaded roster of scorers in sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon — who scored a team-high 25 points on Thursday — Isaac, Rathan-Mayes and guard Terance Mann. The quartet is responsible for close to 60 percent of FSU’s offensive production this season.
They also plan to keep their focus on the present.
Their win on Thursday, they said, won’t carry any extra weight on Saturday.
“[Thursday’s] game is over,” Bacon said. “We’ve just got to come into practice, work on free throws, work on executing, less turnovers and get the game plan down for Xavier, and I think we’ll be fine.”