Florida State turns ACC baptism into big surprise party

February 05, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Correspondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The image of the Atlantic Coast Conference is much like a stockbroker's:

Efficient, coldly calculating, slow to change, but quietly effective. And, above all, conservative.

So how, many college basketball observers wondered, would the staid ACC welcome the brash and flashy newcomers at Florida State during their inaugural season in the league?

A little more than halfway through their first trip around the conference, the reviews and the welcomes are coming in quite nicely for the 23rd-ranked Seminoles (14-5).

Florida State is, by most accounts, the surprise team of the first half of the ACC season, compiling a 6-3 league mark. Four of those wins were on the road.

So, have the Seminoles received everything they expected from the ACC?

"And more," said junior guard Sam Cassell, a former Dunbar High star. "There's exciting crowds, the coaches are great and the players are incredible. It's a competitive conference and if you don't come ready to play, you'll get blown out."

The Seminoles, who host Maryland (8-10, 1-7) tonight here, have been ready to play in all of their conference games, suffering only one blowout, an 86-70 loss in early January at top-ranked Duke. And Florida State, which won the Metro Conference tournament last year, has racked up some impressive wins, including overtime victories at Wake Forest and Maryland, and a four-point win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Florida State has made its presence felt right from the start, winning its first ACC game ever at North Carolina's Smith Center, after the Tar Heel fans had welcomed the Seminoles to the league with a pre-game ovation.

"We went in there like we had nothing to lose," said Cassell. "We just went in there to play. All we had to do was block it [the fans] out."

Maybe Florida State's ACC success shouldn't be such a surprise. After all, the Seminoles did leave the Metro Conference tournament champions last season, and made their third NCAA tournament appearance in four years, advancing to the second round where they were beaten by Indiana.

But Florida State, probably the league's quickest team outside of the Blue Devils, has been occasionally inconsistent, getting upset by South Florida and losing at home in overtime to Virginia.

The Seminoles got an early-season wakeup call in the ACC/Big East Challenge, where Syracuse handed them an 89-71 drubbing before a national audience.

"Syracuse kind of gave us a turning point," said Chuck Graham, Cassell's backcourt mate. "We thought because we were in the ACC we were going to walk."

Last week, the Seminoles led Duke by one with less than four minutes to go, only to be shut out the rest of the way, after coach Pat Kennedy took the team out of its running and into a delay game.

But after a bruising seven-games-in-15-day schedule, the Seminoles are getting into the comfortable part of their season, with their remaining ACC road games against North Carolina State, Virginia and Clemson, teams with a combined 9-14 league record.

And after rematches with Georgia Tech and North Carolina, the Seminoles will have two weeks of rest before taking part in their first ACC Tournament, in Charlotte, N.C.

"Everybody says that [the tournament] is unreal," said Graham. "Playing in Charlotte and North Carolina, where basketball is so big will be exciting."

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