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February 4, 2012
Yet another nationally ranked hurdle could not make Florida State stumble.
The 21st-ranked Seminoles continued their tear through the Atlantic Coast Conference, this time holding off a late push from No. 18 Virginia to win 58-55 in front of 11,575 at the Donald L. Tucker Center on Saturday.
FSU (16-6, 7-1 ACC) has now won seven straight league games, a school record, and is 7-1 to start league play for the first time ever. The Seminoles also stand in first place in the ACC. And despite a late rally from Virginia that erased the Seminoles' 13-point lead in the second half, FSU gathered itself to win its seventh straight.
"I thought we fought very hard, we didn't play nearly as well as we would have liked," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. His team turned the ball over 19 times and allowed UVA to shoot 46.7 percent from the floor.
"But I think that's one of the positive things about our team, I still think they've got a tremendous amount of room for improvement as we continue to keep finding ways to win and pull games out," he said.
A physical contest with two teams carrying similar, defense-first philosophies, the Seminoles' 44-31 lead in the second half evaporated as UVA's 14-0 run made it 45-44 with 4:41 to play. That's when FSU's Michael Snaer nailed a beyond-deep three-pointer from the wing to take the lead back.
The Seminoles would never relinquish it again.
As FSU led 55-52, Joe Harris' missed three-pointer with 17 seconds to play and the corresponding FSU free throws would ice the game.
While Florida State wasn't dominant defensively - especially as UVA shot 50 percent in the second half - it was able to force 20 turnovers from a Cavalier bunch that averaged only 11.1 per game entering Saturday.
"Florida State certainly defends at a high level," UVA coach Tony Bennett said. "They're athletic, they're big, they're physical and with their quality defense they made us turn it over a lot of the time. We got sped up and rattled in a stretch there and if you want to be competitive and successful in a situation like this you can't give it away."
And if there is room for improvement for the Seminoles as Hamilton suggests, that could bad news for the rest of the league. The Seminoles have already beaten the three toughest opponents in the ACC (Duke, UNC, Virginia) during its school-record 7-1 start to conference play.
"(The 7-1 start) says that we're for real, it wasn't a fluke for us to beat certain teams," Snaer said. "We're not going away, we're in it for the fight. We know a lot of teams are going to start coming after us, and we've got to just keep it in our minds that we're coming after them.
"We're in the hunt to win a title. It's not like we're just to hunted - everyone wants to say that now - we're the hunters, we're still in the hunt, that's how I look at it."
Hamilton, coaching too long to look ahead or behind, wouldn't put a value on his team's incredible string of ACC success.
"What is says that we've won seven games, we're playing well to win seven games," Hamilton said with a laugh. "Nobody is going to have anything great happening for them at the end of the season if they only win seven (ACC) games.
"Our goal is to continue to keep winning, to keep playing - the thing I like about this team is that we still haven't reached our peak yet."