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Preview: No. 14 Florida St. @ Notre Dame

With two games vs. Boston College, at home vs. Georgia Tech and at N.C. State – a combined 10-25 in ACC play – a win over FSU would all but assure ND of an NCAA tourney bid.

Game 26: No. 14 Florida State (21-4, 9-3) @ Notre Dame (18-7, 7-5)

-- Date: Feb. 11, 2017
-- Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
-- Time: 6:00 pm ET
-- TV: ESPN
-- Nickname: Seminoles
-- Conference: ACC
-- Head coach: Leonard Hamilton (499-401 overall; 299-191 in 15th year at FSU)
-- Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
-- 2015-16 record: (20-14, 8-10; t11th ACC)
-- 2016 Postseason: NIT 2nd round
-- Point spread: Notre Dame by 1½

MATCHING UP VS. SEMINOLES

Tied for first atop the ACC with North Carolina, and a half-game ahead of Virginia, the Seminoles of Florida State (21-4, 9-3) -- in a season of revival in Tallahassee -- come into Purcell Pavilion Saturday night riding high.

Winners of three in a row, not only are the Seminoles a lock for their first NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons, but also are contending for a No. 1 seed with one-third of the ACC schedule left to play.

Led by veteran head coach Leonard Hamilton and one of the deepest, most battle-tested rotations in the country, the Seminoles will put pressure on the shortened bench of the Fighting Irish, which was trimmed to a six in the second half of Tuesday’s 88-81 home victory over Wake Forest.

“We’re going to need more bodies,” said Brey, who faces a Florida State team with an 11-, 12-, sometimes 13-man brigade.

“I used some timeouts to rest our guys (against Wake Forest). We may have to do that some, especially with our four key guys. But we’re going to need more bodies, especially a (Austin) Torres and (Martin) Geben contribution. Both had a nice contribution in Tallahassee.”

Notre Dame fell to Florida State on Jan. 18 as the Seminoles handed the Irish their first ACC loss after getting out of the gate with five victories. The Irish had 18 turnovers on the 18th of last month.

Florida State followed up with a five-point victory over Louisville in Tallahassee after the win over Notre Dame, but then lost by 22 points at Georgia Tech and 10 points at Syracuse.

The Seminoles have won their last three games in decisive fashion: at Miami (by 18), at home over Clemson (by 48), and at home over N.C. State (by 24) Wednesday night.

In the last three games against Miami, Clemson and N.C. State, the Seminoles have allowed an average of 63 points per game.

“They kind of take your spirit defensively,” Brey said. “It’s almost as if you’re not running your offensive principles sometimes; you’re reading and reacting to ball pressure and traps. That’s where you’re really tested, and they put 80 on the board pretty easily.

“It’s another team with length where you worry about the backboard. They had 11 offensive rebounds down there, but the first game was a story of throwing the ball away.”

Thirteen of Notre Dame’s 18 turnovers against Florida State came in the first half. In the six games since then, the Irish have averaged just nine turnovers per game. But the Seminoles can flip that switch back in their favor with an ACC-leading 14.9 turnovers forced per game.

“Playing with our spread-motion and with the smaller lineup, it gives you more decision makers with the ball against their pressure,” Brey said. “I think that can help us.”

With three different starting lineups in the last three games, don’t be surprised if Brey goes with a fourth.

Freshman T.J. Gibbs played a career-high 25 minutes, scoring 12 points, the last time the Irish played Florida State. It’s a more favorable option than Geben, Torres and Rex Pflueger, the latter of which has been a consistently productive contributor off the bench the last two seasons.

FLORIDA STATE PERSONNEL

Dwayne Bacon, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, leads the balanced Seminole attack at 17.6 points per game, including 20.5 over the last four with a 29-point performance against Clemson.

Jonathan Isaac --  a 6-foot-10 freshman who tossed in 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots in the victory over Notre Dame -- has been inconsistent since hammering the Irish, although he scored 21 points in 24 minutes against the Tigers Wednesday night.

He’s averaging an up-and-down 13.1 points per game while snaring rebounds at a 7.8 pace and leading the Seminoles from the line with an 81.7 percentage. Isaac has ticking-time-bomb capabilities on any given night.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is the veteran glue of the Seminoles, averaging 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. He scored just eight points against the Irish in mid-January, but key buckets down the stretch eventually derailed Notre Dame’s last gasp attempt.

Rathan-Mayes held N.C. State freshman sensation Dennis Smith Jr. to just eight points on eight field-goal attempts in 35 minutes Wednesday night.

Terance Mann (8.8 ppg., 4.7 rpg.), a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is the fourth Seminole to average 25 minutes per game. Eight others log anywhere from 9-to-14 minutes.

Size is provided by 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje. Jarquez Smith, a 6-foot-9 senior, and Phil Cofer, a 6-foot-8 junior, offer two more big bodies off the bench.

The Seminoles can be erratic from the free-throw line, connecting on just shy of 70 percent for the season. In three of the last five games, Florida State has made less than 66 percent of its attempts.

In 12 ACC games, Notre Dame is third in the conference in free-throw percentage at 76.4; Florida State is 13th at 67.1.

RAINING THREES

Notre Dame had the rare distinction of connecting on 15-of-21 three-pointers – an off-the-chart 71.4 percent – in the loss to the Seminoles in Tallahassee.

It struck the Irish as a huge missed opportunity.

“It’s like, ‘God, we wasted a great shooting night,’” Brey said. “We couldn’t handle the ball like we usually handle the ball. But it’s encouraging to know that when we did move the ball and were good with it, we were able to move them around and got looks.”

Perhaps the Irish can pick up where they left off Tuesday night after Matt Farrell, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson combined for 13-of-24 three-point shooting, including 9-of-14 in the second half.

In the five games between Florida State and Wake Forest, the Irish made just 37-of-108 three-pointers (34.2 percent). Opponents including Syracuse, Virginia, Duke and North Carolina had much to do with that.

“We didn’t play that great in the first half, but we still gave ourselves a chance to win,” said senior Steve Vasturia of the first Florida State game. “If we can play the way we did in the second half and continue to get open looks, we have a good shot to win the game.”

THE ACC GRIND

By the second half of the Wake Forest game, Mike Brey was using six players. Florida State boasts 12 players with an average of at least nine minutes per game.

“They play a lot of guys and obviously we don’t,” said point guard Matt Farrell. “But we’ve got to make sure we give it all we’ve got for 40 minutes. It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor. We’ve just to got to stick to what we do.”

“We’re going to need to have fresh bodies ready to go,” V.J. Beachem said. “Coach is always great at having everybody ready, especially against a team that plays so many guys. Finding ways to steal a rest is big for us.”

It’s not just the inhabitants of the ACC that know what a grind this super-conference has become in 2016-17. Others see it from a distance.

“I was texting with a good friend from the American Conference and he said, ‘Man, your league can just break kids down not only physically, but mentally,’’’ Brey related.

“Other than the teams at the top, everyone in our league has gone through a stretch like (Notre Dame’s five losses in six games).

“I think I’ve got a mentally tough group. We are where we are as far as an NCAA tournament resume because they’re pretty tough mentally. But when you lose four in a row, it starts to test you a little bit.”

Saturday night, the Irish will try to put fatigue on the backburner.

“When there’s eight minutes left in the game, you’re not thinking about being tired,” Farrell said. “We just want to do what we do and try to get a win.”

POINTS IN THE PAINT

• Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton is shooting for his 500th career victory and 300th win with Florida State.

• A victory Saturday night would give Notre Dame a program-best 75 victories spanning three seasons. The current 74 victories in three seasons ties the mark set in 2010-11/2011-12/2012-13.

• Florida State holds a 4-1 all-time mark against Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s only win over the Seminoles came in a mid-December ACC game at Purcell Pavilion in 2014.

• Bonzie Colson enters the Florida State game with 981 career points. Should he reach the 1,00-point mark tonight, he would be the third current Irish player to do so this season, joining Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.

Vasturia’s 1,278 points rank 32nd all-time at Notre Dame; Beachem’s 1,072 points rank 50th.

The last time the Irish had three players reach the 1,000-point mark in the same season was 1991-92 when LaPhonso Ellis (1,505), Elmer Bennett (1,488) and Daimon Sweet (1,410) did it. 

Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Notre Dame 78, Florida State 75


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