Florida State’s coaches were as curious as everyone else on Saturday afternoon: Would M.J. Walker be able to play?
“I said, ‘If I’m going to play then I’m going to go all out,’ ” Walker responded. “I’m not going to go halfway just to say, ‘I’m going to try.’ This is a game that we need.”
Walker played. He didn’t go halfway. And he made sure FSU got the win.
The junior guard turned in one of his best games of his career, scoring 23 points and making 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range, in FSU’s 78-65 win over then-No. 7 Louisville. And Walker did it with a hip bruise that forced him to miss the Georgia Tech game and kept him in the training room constantly to get treatment in the cold tub.
“I’ve been getting treatment probably three, four times a day,” Walker said. “Get in the ice tub, just throw some ice on it. Staying in the treatment room and staying on top of it so I can help my team.
“I’m feeling pretty good going into this next game.”
Walker is averaging 11.3 points, and he has scored in double figures in five of his last six games. Known as a very good 3-point shooter, he is often “streaky good” when he is dialed in — and on Saturday Walker became the 23rd FSU player to have 100 or more 3s in his career.
But Walker is also making an effort to expand his game beyond being a pure jump shooter. When Walker drives to the basket, he is able to finish or kick it back out to a teammate who has an open shot. This was stressed as part of offseason film sessions between Walker and FSU assistant coach Charlton Young: the necessity to have a complete game on the offensive end of the floor.
“CY was telling me, just saying a lot of times I would depend on the 3 to get me going, but just expanding my game, watching more film, taking what the defense is giving me,” Walker said. “That’s going to continue to put me in position to get my teammates involved and just continue to be aggressive on the floor. As long as I keep doing that, attacking, it will open up shots for not just me but my teammates as well to get wide-open kicks and shots to keep us going.”
FSU (13-2, 3-1 ACC) is riding a five-game win streak, which includes back-to-back ACC wins against Georgia Tech and Louisville in the last week. The media has taken notice, moving FSU up eight spots to No. 10 in the latest AP poll. Next up is a road game against Wake Forest on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Sun or via ESPN app).
But Walker’s performance at Louisville could be a long-term spark. If he’s able to make 3-pointers consistently, something that hasn’t been a strength for FSU this season, the Seminoles could beat any team in the ACC on any given night.
And Saturday’s performance in Louisville was just one such example. The confidence for the Seminoles is sky high.
“I told our guys we look forward to games like this,” Walker said. “We have been playing basketball to be in these moments. It was fun but at the same time we find a way to continue to stay locked in. They had a nice atmosphere, an NBA-type gym, especially for the guys that haven’t been in the ACC yet just to see and play in that game, it’s going to continue to build our confidence as a team going forward we’re going to learn from this game and build on what we do.”