SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A few hours before he boarded a plane for Syracuse, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton spoke about his team’s mindset when going on the road, and how learning what it takes to beat ACC teams in their arenas would be a big part of the Seminoles’ growth process over the rest of the regular season.
Consider Tuesday night’s game at Syracuse a giant step forward.
Over the course of 40 minutes, the Seminoles played perhaps their most inspired half of the season, withstood a relentless rally as the infamous Carrier Dome roared, and then, after absorbing the worst, dispatched the Orange with surprising ease.
By the time the clock hit zero, the No. 22 Seminoles had emerged with an 80-62 victory over Syracuse, their fourth consecutive win and first in the Carrier Dome since 1997.
FSU (17-5, 5-4 ACC) can make it five straight on Saturday at home against No. 15 Louisville (4 p.m., ESPN2).
“Our inconsistency has kind of been our biggest obstacle,” Hamilton said, “but I do feel that we made a step in the right direction, on the road against a good basketball team in a place that is very challenging to win.
“I thought our guys grew up a little bit tonight.”
Terance Mann scored 22 on 8-of-9 shooting and Mfiondu Kabengele added 18 for FSU, which raced out to a 26-10 advantage midway through the first half and, a few moments later, led 36-14 – its largest lead over an ACC opponent this season.
Syracuse (16-7, 7-3), however, responded in kind by pressing the Seminoles with their defense, going on a 17-4 run to finish the period, and then by scoring seven of the first 10 points after the break.
When Oshae Brissett made a layup at the 13:44 mark, the Orange trailed by just one point, the 21,553 fans in attendance were on their feet and the Seminoles seemed destined for yet another hard lesson about life on the road.
But given an opportunity to fold, the Seminoles instead flourished and found an answer every time the Orange threatened.
When Syracuse cut it to one, Phil Cofer responded by making an off-balance jumper at the other end.
When another small run made it 51-49 at the 11:55 mark, Mann hit back with four straight points – two via layup and two at the free-throw line.
And when Syracuse made one last push – to 55-52 a few moments later – Hamilton called timeout and the Seminoles responded with perhaps their most important stretch of the season, a 12-0 run from that effectively put the game out of reach and sent Orange fans to an early exit.
Mann and Kabengele traded layups and 3-pointers before Cofer capped things off with a pair of free throws that stretched FSU’s lead back to 15 points.
“We just told each other we’ve got to get back to what we were doing in the first half,” Mann said. “Playing free, moving the ball, not holding it for ourselves and making the ball find the best shot.”
Added Kabengele: “This team has a lot of character. Everyone on this team is super connected. We had a lot of emotional timeouts and emotional huddles. Everyone got reconnected and refocused.”
A heavy depth advantage didn’t hurt either. The Seminoles, as usual, enjoyed a nine-man rotation, with eight of those players logging at least 10 minutes.
Syracuse, meanwhile, went just seven deep and only four players scored.
That model has worked just fine for the Orange more often than not. But on a night when they had to press more than they would like and exert more energy than they otherwise would, the Orange faded down the stretch in the second half.
“No one presses that long,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We had no choice. You might lose by 40 but you’ve got to try. … It’s hard to press a team like that for so long.
“(The Seminoles) are a really good team, and you can’t give a team 20 and think you’re going to come back.”
Florida State continued its upward shooting trend, torching Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense with an 11-of-22 night from the 3-point line. That includes a combined 6-for-6 from Mann and Kabengele and three first-half 3-pointers by M.J. Walker.
All told, the Seminoles shot 54.5 percent from the field and are averaging 49.9 percent during their four-game winning streak.
“That’s mental, that’s maturing, that’s confidence and that’s feeling that we’re all in sync,” Hamilton said. “And I think, tonight, that we realized we had to be at that level in order to be successful.”
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