Any time an in-state rival comes to town, the Seminoles can expect a tough, physical and sometimes cheap contest.
On Saturday afternoon, that is exactly the type of game they were forced to play.
From the opening tip, spectators were made well aware that this was going to be a hard-nosed battle. Only the strong was going to survive, and Florida State made sure it was a little tougher during important stretches to secure a win over Miami.
"It was one of those games that came down to the wire, and they were little better than us during a stretch," said Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga. "You have to be stronger and tougher than your opponent. Lots of contact occurs."
Lots of contact there was.
Just ask senior Bernard James, who took the brunt of the beating throughout the game. He had been dealt the difficult assignment of matching up with Miami bruiser Reggie Johnson. The 6-10 Hurricane forward came to Tallahassee on fire. He had been averaging 18 points per game over his previous three outings.
However, James was able to keep him at bay.
"Reggie is two times as wide as me," said James. "I tried to get him into as many ball screens as possible, just to get him running more. Either he was going to sit back, or our guards were going to light it up."
The ‘Canes rely on Johnson's size to clog up the paint and cause havoc for those who dare to test his durability. James and Co. were able to keep the big man limited to just four points. Johnson was only able to attempt four shots because the ‘Noles had been determined to keep the basketball out of his hands and were successful throughout the game.
A victory over Miami isn't just another tally in the win column for FSU. It provides a sense of satisfaction that only comes from defeating your biggest rival. It had been an intense fight, and the Seminoles were able to withstand whatever the Hurricanes threw at them.
"It's just intense," said James. "I think it's bragging rights or something. It gets really emotional. It just feels like there's more at stake than just one game."
Emotion was certainly on display in this one.
Throughout the contest, there had been constant trash talking and dirty loooks. At one point, Johnson stared down an undersized Ian Miller. But Miller didn't seem phased and stared right back into Johnson's gaze.
That is what one can expect when heated rivals meet in a matchup as anticipated as this one. Florida State entered the game atop the ACC standings. Miami had been nipping at its heels, coming in just one game behind FSU, North Carolina and Duke, all of which are tied for first place in the conference.
A win would have pulled the ‘Canes into a tie with the ‘Noles and put both in second place behind the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.
However, FSU was able to pull out the win and, thus, secure itself the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference for at least another couples of days.
"I said before the season started that it would be this type of season," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "There's a lot of players in this league, a lot of great coaches. You're going to have a logjam in the first four or five spots."
That logjam may very well continue for the remainder of the regular season, but the only thing the ‘Noles are concerned with is finishing on top in the end. This win against the Hurricanes is a step in the right direction.
It's a step that feels extra special because not only does it knock a potential contender a step backward, but it provides a loss to the team that every ‘Nole wants to defeat the most.
Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
More than simply another win for FSU
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