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'Noles look ready for challenges ahead

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 20, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - For Florida State, it's time to get serious.

The Seminoles' 69-50 runaway win against an overmatched New Orleans team Sunday night might provide plenty of clips for an end-of-the-year highlight film, but it won't provide any real highlights for their postseason resume.

Nor did McNeese State, Illinois State and Southern Methodist.

You can't say that about their next three opponents.

The Seminoles play at No. 4 Pittsburgh on Friday, at No. 9 Wisconsin as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 28, then host No. 1 Florida on Dec. 3.

"These next three games can either make us or break us," senior forward Al Thornton said. "If we can get at least two of these games, I feel we'll be in great shape."

The Seminoles 4-0, looking for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998, have twice been chastised and consequently eliminated from March Madness consideration for playing a weak nonconference schedule. Including last season.

"You can't help but to think about it," Thornton said of the possibilities these games offer. "There's no other team in the country that's going to have the type of stretch we're going to have."

"I don't think it's pressure, I think it's an opportunity," added junior guard Jason Rich. "It's a great opportunity for us as a program. I love going into big-time atmospheres. What college player wouldn't? It doesn't get any better than that."

In the first half against the Privateers (1-4), the Seminoles showed they have ability and tenacity at both ends. Their pressure helped force the Privateers commit more than three times as many turnovers (17) than they had field goals (five) and led to an insurmountable 42-14 halftime lead. The record for fewest points allowed in a first half is 10 (Jacksonville 1997).

Coach Leonard Hamilton quipped he hadn't worked on an "up-by-30 halftime" speech and his team lacked that same defensive aggressiveness in the second half. Not that New Orleans really threatened; the lead didn't fall below 15.

"We're encouraged by the fact that we've shown some strong possibilities," Hamilton said, "but we are concerned at this stage we're still showing signs that in order to get to where we want to go, we've still got to learn a little bit more about how to maintain that emotional fire for 40 minutes."

It's time.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or at (813) 226-3347.