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Gray’s return should help spark FSU in holiday tournament

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RaiQuan Gray is back on the court, just in time for one big weekend of basketball.

Florida State travels to Niceville on Friday to play No. 17 Tennessee and then will play VCU or Purdue on Saturday and the sophomore forward is playing again after missing two games due to a sprained ankle. Games on back-to-back days are typically reserved for a Thanksgiving weekend or ACC Tournament, and this type of challenge is a daunting one for a Seminoles team that is a blend of veterans but also has six newcomers.

“It’s going to be tough,” Gray said. “It’s early in the season. They haven’t been through it yet. It could be tough for our team to bounce back like that within a short time span.”

FSU (5-1) has won five straight games after a season-opening loss at Pittsburgh. The Seminoles faced some tough battles with the Panthers and then on the road vs. Florida before returning home for some easier non-conference games.

Injuries have limited the Seminoles, keeping Leonard Hamilton from using the rotations that he would like to test. Still, Hamilton has played nearly the entire roster and 10 or more players scored in the last two wins.

Gray is back after missing two games with a sprained ankle. M.J. Walker is also expected to return to the court on Thursday from a knee injury. Gray’s return was key, giving the Seminoles another big body but also a forward who is comfortable dribbling in the open court and has a smooth jump shot. He took about seven-10 days off before playing 16 minutes, scoring six points and pulling down seven rebounds.

“I’m fine, I’m 100 percent,” Gray said. “It was really important (to play against Chicago State). This is a big game for us against Tennessee. I wanted to prepare early and get my wind back up and get my rhythm back.”

Gray said he is looking forward to the busy weekend for the Seminoles, knowing that he will get some rest after Friday’s game and wake up early to begin watching prior games of VCU or Purdue.

“I’m more of an early riser,” Gray said. “Wake up in the morning and start preparing.”

FSU VS. TENNESSEE

Tip/TV: 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.

FSU projected starters: G Trent Forrest (12.2 ppg., 28 assists), G Devin Vassell (12.3 ppg., 4.0 rpg.), F Malik Osborne (6.8 ppg., 5.7 rpg.), F RaiQuan Gray (6.0 ppg., 4.3 rpg.), C Dominik Olejniczak (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg.).

FSU’s top reserves: Patrick Williams (10.8 ppg., 3.8 rpg.), G M.J. Walker (11.3 ppg., 4.0 rpg), G Anthony Polite (6.0 ppg., 3.3 rpg.).

Tennessee’s projected starters: G Jordan Bowden (16.6 ppg., 5.2 rpg.), G Lamonte Turner (13.6 ppg., 4.0 rpg.), G/F Yves Pons (13.0 ppg., 4.6 rpg.), F John Fulkerson (11.4 ppg., 6.4 rpg.).

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