No. 7 Florida State will look to sweep its regular-season series against Notre Dame when the teams meet Wednesday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in South Bend, Ind.
Florida State (24-5, 14-4 ACC) held on for an 85-84 win in the teams’ first matchup Jan. 25 in Tallahassee, Fla. The stakes are even greater this time around as the Seminoles are looking to stay alive for at least a share of the conference title.
The Seminoles are a half-game behind No. 10 Louisville (24-6, 15-4) in the conference standings, but the Cardinals have only one game remaining while the Seminoles have two. So if Florida State wins its final two games, it would at least share the crown.
Florida State’s league-title hopes took a hit when the Seminoles absorbed a last-second, 70-69 loss at Clemson on Saturday.
The next hurdle comes against Notre Dame (18-11, 9-9), which has won three of four but is coming off an 84-73 road loss against Wake Forest on Saturday. The Fighting Irish have two regular-season games, plus the ACC tournament, to try to bolster their case for making the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey tried to light a fire under his upperclassmen after the loss to the Demon Deacons.
“Our best post defender was (sophomore) Nate Laszewski,” Brey said to reporters. “Our senior big guys didn’t guard anybody tonight. I love them to death, but they didn’t play any defense. That’s why we started Nate in the second half. We just told him to foul the heck out of (Wake Forest big man Olivier Sarr) if you have to.”
Florida State will pose its own challenges to the Fighting Irish defense.
Three Seminoles guards are averaging in double digits this season: Devin Vassell (12.9 points per game), Trent Forrest (11.7) and M.J. Walker (10.4). Forward Patrick Williams is not far behind at 9.4 points per game, and forward Malik Osborne is contributing on both ends of the court with 6.2 points and five rebounds per contest.
Notre Dame is led by John Mooney, who is averaging team highs of 16.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per contest. T.J. Gibbs (13.2 ppg), Prentiss Hubb (11.8) and Dane Goodwin (10.4) also are scoring in double figures.
It was an unheralded player, Florida State reserve forward Wyatt Wilkes, who proved to be the difference in the first meeting between the teams. The sophomore finished with a career-high 19 points and shot 5-for-6 from beyond the arc in the win.
This time, history looms large: Florida State never has won a regular-season championship in ACC hoops.
“We’re here. It’s a new team,” Vassell said to the Tallahassee (Fla.) News-Democrat. “(Seminoles assistant coach Charlton Young) always says, ‘New blood, blue blood,’ and stuff like that.
“It’s just showing that it’s a new team, a new FSU. We’re trying to show everybody that we’ve been to the Sweet 16, we’ve been to the Elite Eight, but we’re trying to get to a new place — a place that we’ve never been before.”
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said his players cannot afford to feel satisfied quite yet.
“We’re trying to keep this in perspective,” Hamilton told reporters. “We can’t start getting excited about where we are now.”
–Field Level Media