Patrick Williams smiled on Monday afternoon thinking about it.
He was a Florida State freshman, getting ready to play in his first college basketball game, and it happened to come against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. On the road.
Williams was about as nervous as he’s ever been on a basketball court. The whole Florida State team seemed to be, and it showed as the Seminoles lost, 63-61, to the Pitt Panthers to start the season 0-1.
Since then, though?
Well, Florida State hasn’t done a whole lot of losing.
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The Seminoles have won 21 of their next 24 games overall and 11 of their next 13 in conference. They are ranked No. 8 in the country, and a win over the Panthers on Tuesday (8 p.m., ACC Network) would move them into second place in the ACC standings.
The season-opening Pitt loss seems like a distant memory now. But that doesn’t mean Williams and the rest of the Seminoles have forgotten it completely.
“I think a lot of us were nervous,” Williams said. “I know I was. They were giving me open shots, and I wouldn’t take them because I didn’t want to air-ball or miss. Because it was my first ACC game. It was a sold-out crowd. I just think all together it’s going to be different this time.”
The Seminoles shot just 31 percent in the first half and were 3-of-12 from 3-point range in that contest. They scored all of 25 points in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Pitt was even worse from the floor but got to the free-throw line enough to pull off the upset win anyway.
Florida State was called for 27 fouls in the game. Pitt was called for 16.
Williams said part of his nerves came from just having to prepare for an ACC game like that. He remembers in practice and team meetings, as the FSU coaches went over all of the different sets Pitt would run, thinking to himself, “Oh, man. This is going to be tough.”
That kind of head-swimming is natural for a freshman playing in his first game.
“They had so many options,” Williams said with a smile. “So many plays. They had up-screens, back-screens, step-up screens. It was kind of overwhelming, really. But now I’m getting more comfortable. I’ve got a lot of games under my belt now. So I’m more comfortable.
“The game has really slowed down to me.”
Patrick Williams says FSU is a ‘different team’ than the one that faced Pitt to start the season. (Logan Stanford/Special to Warchant)
Williams scored 17 points in the Seminoles’ 80-77 victory over Syracuse on Saturday.
The Charlotte, N.C., native was one of six first-year players who made their Florida State debut in that game against Pitt in early November.
While Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton certainly doesn’t think his team has reached its full potential, he knows the Seminoles are better than they were the first time they faced the Panthers (15-11, 6-9 in the ACC).
“We didn’t get very much done at all against Pitt,” Hamilton said. “It was just one of those games where we were not ready. We were not ready for prime-time basketball. We had six new guys that we were trying to integrate into what we were doing, and it was just one of those games that they outplayed us in every way.
“They taught us a very valuable lesson. It got our attention and it set us back on our heels. And I think our guys came back and refocused.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers didn’t quite build on their season-opening success. They went on to lose their very next game that week. To Nicholls State.
But they’ve definitely made strides under second-year head coach Jeff Capel, and as they’ve already shown once this season, they are perfectly capable of knocking off the Seminoles.
The Panthers have three players scoring in double-figures, led by Justin Champagnie and Trey McGowans, who are both averaging 12.5 points per game. Pitt is hitting only 30 percent of its 3-point attempts on the season, and the Panthers are coming off a loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Florida State is hoping to hand them another one on Tuesday night. That would make the season-opening disappointment even more of a distant memory.
“I just feel like we’re a different team,” Williams said. “More mature, more experienced. I feel like we’ll be ready.”
NOTES: Hamilton would not give an update on the availability of Devin Vassell for Tuesday’s game. The Seminoles’ leading scorer and rebounder was held out against Syracuse for an apparent coach’s decision. … Hamilton also said that team doctors are trying to see if they can fit guard M.J. Walker for a mask after he suffered a cut in his mouth that required 12 stitches. … The team will be wearing its turquoise uniforms against Pitt on Tuesday night.
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