Florida State will open the ACC schedule on Saturday and likely will have one of its big men back in the lineup.
Coach Leonard Hamilton said Friday that center Naheem McLeod is probable after missing the last two games due to a mild ankle sprain. McLeod is averaging just 2.5 points and 0.8 rebounds but would be a welcome piece within the lineup as FSU faces Syracuse (4 p.m. on ACC Network).
“He should be available,” Hamilton said. “We definitely need him just for the quality of our depth.”
McLeod’s return will help against a Syracuse team that features Jimmy Boeheim (14.3 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Buddy Boeheim (21 points, 3.6 rebounds) but also 6-foot-11 center Jesse Edwards (12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds).
FSU played at No. 2 Purdue on Tuesday without using a traditional center, opting to play forwards like Malik Osborne and Harrison Prieto in that role with McLeod and Tanor Ngom (knee) out. Hamilton opted not to use the team’s other center, Quincy Ballard (he has played in just four of FSU’s seven games).
Ngom will be out at least six weeks, Hamilton said.
“Right now he’s in a cast that’s stabilizing that injury and hopefully will allow it to heal,” Hamilton said.
Starting guard Rayquan Evans was flying back to Tallahassee late Thursday and Hamilton said he wasn’t sure if he would play. Evans flew west to attend the funeral service for his brother.
“We’ll see where his mindset is,” Hamilton said. “It’s always challenging when you lose a loved one. And there’s a period that you have to give people time to make the adjustments in their own way.”
Evans averages 7.2 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 assists. Freshman Jalen Warley started for FSU at Purdue.
Learning and growing
Hamilton has been consistent — he likes the players, talent and energy on this 2021-22 team. But he has also been candid, seeing the growing pains with the Seminoles (5-2) as well as the opportunities for long-term growth. That has also required some patience by the coaches.
“This is a very interesting time for our basketball team,” Hamilton said. “We’re going through a period of regrouping with a group of veterans that are accepting different roles — Wyatt (Wilkes), Malik (Osborne) and Evans. Guys whose status in our program has gone from support players to leadership guys and we have a number of first-year players that are growing into who we are and what we’re about as a program. We have a lot of adjustments that we’re making.
“We’ve been a mature, veteran team during this run, especially at home. I think we have to exercise more patience. And we have to have a little better understanding that these guys are making the adjustments all over the place, especially when you got this many first-year guys.”
Hamilton also mentioned teaching the principles of facing Syracuse’s traditional zone defense and noting “how starry eyed some of our first-year players became.” In a normal year, with a roster that has more experience, that was not nearly as evident, Hamilton said.
ACC home victory record
Florida State has not lost an ACC home game since Jan. 2019. The Seminoles have put together 25 straight ACC victories, one shy of tying Duke’s all-time record set from 1997-2000. Hamilton took time to praise FSU’s trainers, strength coach Mike Bradley as well as administration and fans for supporting the team through its run.
“This is a unique opportunity for us on Saturday to tie the all-time home winning record in the history of the ACC,” Hamilton said. “It is not something that we planned for, that we talked about but it has developed and a lot of people have been a part of it. The ADs, the administration who have supported us and been patient with us during those years where, sometimes in our business people are not very patient. And they’ve been with us through some of those lean moments when we had injuries and maybe didn’t play as well as we are capable of playing, should have been playing. Everybody can take pride in helping us get to this point. … We need everybody to be on board with us on a Saturday. This team needs their support.”
A positive from Purdue
The 93-65 loss at Purdue was the most lopsided for FSU since 2005. Playing without two starters as well as McLeod, the Seminoles were overwhelmed against the nation’s No. 2 team.
Hamilton on Friday said he feels Purdue is the No. 1 team in the nation. He also thinks the experience of facing a potential Final Four team in an intense road atmosphere can help the Seminoles, who will play at NC State and Wake Forest to open January and also play road games against Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia this season.
“I think that was a tremendous opportunity for us to grow and learn and improve in terms of what it’s like to play against the very best on the road and what will be a similar atmosphere that we will face when we go on the road in the ACC,” Hamilton said.