NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For nearly one full year, the score 72-71 has been painfully branded on the Florida State players’ psyches.
The numbers are a harsh reminder of what can happen when the Seminoles come into a ballgame expecting to roll over a lesser-known, lower-seeded opponent.
VCU 72, Florida State 71.
“I mean, personally, I’ve thought about it every day,” Seminoles senior forward Bernard James said of the score to last year’s Seminoles NCAA tournament Sweet 16 loss to Virginia Commonwealth. “It’s just a constant reminder not to let your guard down no matter who you’re playing, no matter what the name is on the jersey.”
Sometime this morning, the Seminoles will likely receive an emotional, fiery speech from their head coach that will reiterate James’ point: If you look at St. Bonaventure the way you looked at VCU, back to Tallahassee you will go.
The Seminoles aren’t ready to return home just yet. They just got here.
Opening their latest NCAA tournament appearance inside Bridgestone Arena at approximately 11:45 a.m. today against the No. 14 seed Bonnies (20-11), the No. 3 seed Seminoles (24-9) are hoping to begin a run that will extend past the Sweet 16.
In order to do that, though, they must first get past a program that most pundits believe they will close out quickly. For the Seminoles, the trick will be convincing themselves that a rout is not necessarily in the cards.
“They’re in the tournament for a reason,” James said of the Atlantic 10 Conference champions. “They earned their way here. They won their conference tournament. These guys can play.”
The Bonnies, led by potential first-round NBA draft pick Andrew Nicholson, are embracing that underdog role.
“We got no pressure on us. Florida State is supposed to win,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “No one has expected us to be here. No one is expecting us to give Florida State a game.”
In the words of Bonnies guard Matthew Wright: “We have nothing to lose.”
James doesn’t want to hear that.
“I don’t buy the whole Cinderella story thing,” James said. “That’s a little ploy to get people’s guard down, having people thinking it’ll be an easy game, and then they come out and hit you in the mouth. We’re definitely expecting that punch right out the gate, and we’re going to throw one ourselves.”
Earlier this week, while still on campus, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton told reporters that he felt like last year’s team didn’t brace for the immediate punch that Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams threw in the Sweet 16. He said his players will be reminded of that fact often before they take the court today.
“We will be having those conversations,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Last year, the fact that it was Notre Dame and Texas A&M (in the NCAA tournament before VCU), kind of really focused us. I don’t feel we were as energized against VCU as we were in those other games.”
Avoiding that repeat letdown was one of FSU’s chief priorities entering the season, and remains that way.
“That’s been our motivation for a whole summer and hopefully we can still remember that this week,” guard Deividas Dulkys said.
Today’s winner advances to the round of 32 and will play the winner of the No. 6 Cincinnati/No. 11 Texas game.