After thrilling overtime win, FSU Basketball prepares for improved Gators

Leonard Hamilton described this stretch of games for his team as being, “thrown from the frying pan into the fire.”

After playing just one game in the first two weeks of the college basketball season, his Florida State Seminoles were in a 45-minute battle with Indiana on Wednesday night that culminated in a two-point win thanks to freshman Scottie Barnes’ game-winning runner with 1.8 seconds left.

Now, according to Hamilton, an even better team is coming to town.

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The Florida Gators, losers of six straight to the Seminoles, are currently 3-0 on the season and coming off an 86-40 win over Stetson on Sunday. They also beat Army by seven points to start the year and Boston College, 90-70, in their second game.

“They are a much more improved team than they were last year,” Hamilton said of the Gators. “So, we’re in a very, very tough stretch. We’ve got to sink or swim. And hopefully this level of competition will elevate our focus and our concentration level, and hopefully that will be enough to continue to keep getting better.”

Hamilton said he was pleased with his team’s energy in the 69-67 win over Indiana. But he said it also very much looked like one team was playing its fifth game of the year and one team was playing just its second.

Florida State struggled shooting against the Hoosiers for most of the night, and the bench contributed a grand total of two baskets (Sardaar Calhoun and Malik Osborne 3-pointers).

That must improve if the Seminoles are going to make it seven straight over the Gators.

“We don’t have very much room for error,” Hamilton said. “The competition is coming fast and furious. It’s like an avalanche right now. It gets even better. Obviously, you expect a much-improved Florida team coming in. In fact, to be honest with you, I think they’re probably a little bit better, a little bit farther along, than Indiana.”

The Gators are currently averaging 84 points per game. They have four players scoring in double-figures, led by Keyontae Johnson’s 19.7 points per game. Sophomore Tre Mann is averaging 15.3 points and 4 assists per game for the Gators, who haven’t beaten Florida State since the 2013 season. Back when Barnes was in the sixth grade.

The Seminoles’ freshman phenom has not shot the ball well through his first two outings, but his all-around game has been at times breathtaking. He leads the team in assists, and his defense has been as impactful as advertised. He also made the two biggest shots in overtime. Before his game-winner, Barnes also calmly knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the game.

As he gets more comfortable with the speed and competition level of the college game, Hamilton expects the 6-9 point guard’s production to continue to increase.

Barnes just wants to keep winning games.

“This is a good win,” he said on Wednesday after the game-winner. “But we’ve just got to forget about this game, move onto the next and prepare for the next game on the scouting report.

“We can’t hold onto this victory so long because we’ve got another game that we have to prepare for right away.”

Then after the Gators on Saturday, the Seminoles open the Atlantic Coast Conference season against a much-improved Georgia Tech squad on Tuesday.

Like Hamilton said, Barnes and his mates are getting thrown right into the fire.

And he knows his bench will have to be better than it was on Wednesday night against the Hoosiers.

“We’ve got to have a full compliment of all our players,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got to get Rayquan Evans a bit more involved. Sardaar Calhoun’s got to be a little bit more involved. I’m pleased with Wyatt (Wilkes), he’s had a great preseason. He didn’t shoot the ball as well as I know he’s capable of shooting. But Sardaar and Tanor (Ngam) and (Quincy) Ballard, we need to get those guys giving us a little bit more.”

Saturday’s game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. tipoff and will air on ESPNU.


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