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Florida State men's basketball searching for spark in rivalry clash with Florida

Carter Karels
Tallahassee Democrat
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The Florida State men’s basketball team desperately needs a spark after dropping three straight games to start the season.

Maybe a rivalry game will help the Seminoles play inspired and finally capture a victory.

FSU (0-3) hosts Florida (2-1) in the Donald L. Tucker Center at 8 p.m. Friday (TV: ACC Network).

Last season, the Seminoles lost at Florida, 71-55. It snapped their seven-game winning streak against the Gators, which started in the 2014-15 season. So FSU coach Leonard Hamilton knows how important it will be for his team to be composed this time.

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“We’ve got to be respectful of the rivalry,” Hamilton said in his pregame press conference Thursday. “In college, you’ve got to be careful not to get more emotional about Duke than you do Boston College. You’ve got to have a mindset that you are going to be at your best every time you play.”

How much the Seminoles are short handed for this game will be worth monitoring. They only had seven scholarship players available in their 79-72 loss against Troy on Monday. And five of those seven needed to play at least 31 minutes in FSU’s physically-demanding style.

Center Naheem McLeod (ankle); forwards Jaylan Gainey (season-ending knee injury), Baba Miller (16-game suspension) and De’Ante Green (knee injury), and guards Chandler Jackson (broken thumb) and Jeremiah Bembry (undisclosed injury) were out for various reasons.

“I will know a little bit more today if we are going to have any of those guys,” Hamilton said. “But if we do, they are going to be giving some physical energy, but not very much experience. So now, we’ve got to make that adjustment as well. 

“We are still in a teaching mode with our first-year players.”

Transfer guards Caleb Mills (University of Houston) and Cam’Ron Fletcher (University of Kentucky), sophomore guards Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley, and McLeod are all second-year players in this Seminole program. Every other player – six freshmen and transfers Darin Green Jr. (UCF) and Gainey (Brown) – is a newcomer. 

The Seminoles certainly have experienced some growing pains to start the season. It’s why Hamilton hopes his team won’t be too revved up in a game that typically brings out a lot of emotions.

“We don’t have the luxury of being emotionally challenged because of the rivalry,” Hamilton said. “We are in such a learning mode, that we’ve got to go out and be as efficient as we can and allow the atmosphere and importance of the game to be what it is. …

“This is a challenge that I think we really, really need. Because with the importance of the game and the atmosphere that is normally created, we’ve got to respond. 

“It’s hopefully going to bring the best out of us from a focus, execution standpoint as well as an energy standpoint.”

FSU women's basketball:Seminoles use big fourth to blow out rival Gators

Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) dunks during the first half as Florida takes on Stoney Brook during an NCAA college basketball game at Steven C. O'Connell Center Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun)

Florida matchup to watch

Florida forward Colin Castleton, a fifth-year senior, challenges most teams.

The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Castleton could especially threaten an FSU team that lacks depth and quality rebounding down low.

And to start the season, Castleton has been dominant. He’s coming off back-to-back outings with at least 30 points. Through three games, Castleton has averaged 25.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and four blocks.

In each of the last two seasons, Castleton earned second-team All-SEC honors.

“They can sell out defensively, because I think he is one of the top shot blockers in the country,” Hamilton said. “Having an experienced guy like that … he is poised and knows a lot about how to help some of those guys on the court and the news players that they have. 

“He has become much more efficient offensively. He is their go-to guy. He is definitely an anchor back there in the interior. You feel his presence.

"When you are driving to the basket, you’ve always got to be aware of him.”

More on Leonard Hamilton:How Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton inspired former staffer Jared Lynn to beat cancer

Other Florida observations

First-year Florida coach Todd Golden had a busy offseason.

The Gators hired Golden, who spent the last three seasons as University of San Francisco’s head coach, in April. He then immediately added four transfers and two freshmen to Florida’s roster.

Those four transfers are sophomore guard Will Richard (Belmont), graduate transfer guard Kyle Lofton (Saint Bonaventure), junior guard Trey Bonham (Virginia Military Institute) and sophomore guard Alex Fudge (LSU). 

Richard ranks second on the Gators in scoring with 14.3 points per game. Lofton was a three-time All-A-10 player who tallied 1,613 points in four seasons with the Bonnies. Bonham averaged 11.3 points across two seasons with VMI. Fudge saw minimal playing time with the Tigers.

Florida suffered a tough loss to lowly Florida Atlantic on Monday, falling 76-74 at home. But Golden has experience taking a program to another level. Last season, he brought the Dons to their first NCAA Tournament since 1998. He helped them compile a 57-36 record and two 20-win seasons.

“He has been very successful,” Hamilton said. “He has been in some great programs. He has a lot of experience, where he has been in winning situations. So you expect him to bring in a wealth of knowledge. 

“What I understand is, he is an analytic guy. So that is a new way in athletics where you are using a new method.”

GAME INFORMATION

Who: FSU (0-3) vs. Florida (2-1)

When/Where: Friday, 8 p.m.; Donald L. Tucker Civic Center

TV/Radio: ACC Network/101.5 FM

Reach Carter Karels at ckarels@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).

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