Florida State and Clemson are two teams going in very different directions since the last time the teams faced off on Dec. 29, a 77-67 win by the Tigers.
Since then, each team has been forced to take lengthy breaks due to COVID. Clemson has gone 2-2, but is on a two-game skid entering Saturday’s game following double-digit losses to Virginia at home and Georgia Tech on the road. FSU has picked up three straight victories in its return to the court: NC State and North Carolina at home and at Louisville.
“Clemson has played excellent basketball,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Just lights out at times. And they have had a couple of games like what we’ve had where they didn’t play very well. Like most of us they are going through those periods of development. And a lot of it is because of the pause and some of the issues we are dealing with and the lack of continuity. … They were absolutely excellent the night that we played them. They shot the ball well. They defended well. They outplayed us. We had one of those games where we were not hitting on all cylinders. We didn’t have an answer for them.”
Now FSU and Clemson face off again, less than four weeks later. FSU has won 20 straight ACC games at the Donald L. Tucker Center going into Saturday’s matchup with Clemson (3 p.m. on ABC).
The Seminoles (8-2, 4-1 ACC) are averaging 88.3 points in their last three games and are shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, 52.7 percent from 3-point range and 91.7 percent from the free-throw line. In FSU’s December games, the Seminoles had made just under 70 percent of their free-throw attempts.
Contributions have come from everywhere, starters and reserves alike. And even when M.J. Walker is playing on short rest with tired legs, scoring just two points on 1 of 7 shooting, he distributes 10 assists and pulls down five rebounds.
RayQuan Evans has seen an expanded role, in part as a starter but also due to injuries to Scottie Barnes and Anthony Polite. Evans is averaging 15 points, shooting 61.5 percent from the floor, in the last three games. And the senior guard has made 8 of 12 shots from beyond the arc in the last five games.
“This kid has something unique about him,” Hamilton said. “I still think his best basketball is ahead of him. He represents that unselfish spirit to the maximum degree. He spends all of his time talking to Scottie trying to make sure Scottie knows what he wants to do with his inexperience. He’s sharing all of his experience. Most guys would be competing with each other. That’s now what he’s all about. He’s the first guy that wants to come out of the game to get a blow and give somebody else an opportunity. This guy is unique. I love him. Rare.”
Malik Osborne hadn’t been shooting much, or making many baskets, in the early part of the season. But in his last two games, Osborne scored 10 points vs. UNC and 12 points at Louisville. Hamilton said FSU has alternated using Osborne as a power forward and a center, with varying responsibilities on each end of the court depending on the position and opponent.
“He is an athlete,” Hamilton said. “He is strong, he’s quick. He can run and jump. But the strength of Malik is his physicality and his really good jump-shooting ability. Now you wouldn’t know that by his productivity on the court. He’s a really, really a good jump shooter. He’s progressing in a lot of other areas. He’s really improved his ball-handling, he’s really improved his passing. He’s becoming more and more a student of the game.”
FSU radio analyst Adrian Crawford joins Ariya Massoudi and I on the Tuck Talk podcast. We discuss FSU’s 3-0 run since the re-start and preview the Clemson game.
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