There's no denying how important Florida State's 69-62 victory over Virginia last Sunday could be in a few months when resumes are being weighed with regard to who makes the NCAA Tournament and who is left on the outside looking in. After all, this is a Virginia team that has won the regular-season ACC title each of the last two seasons and returned many key players from the talent-packed units of the past few years.
Even more importantly, the win marked a possible change in the tides for a Florida State team that has looked unprepared for the big stage in its losses to ranked opponents UNC and Miami, hanging around in both games before simply being outplayed down the stretch of each game. This time, however, it was Florida State that looked like the team that had been in the scenario before, and that showed throughout the second half when the Seminoles took control and didn't let go.
Virginia, which entered Sunday as the No. 13 team in the nation, is the highest-ranked opponent that Florida State has defeated since the rout of the No. 4 North Carolina Tarheels in the memorable 2011-2012 season and only the fourth ranked opponent that Florida State has defeated in the last three seasons.
The importance of the victory was evident in Leonard Hamilton's post-game press conference where he spoke of all the ways in which a win of this significance will help his team, saying, "A win helps your confidence, it helps your execution, it helps your ability to accept coaching, it increases your focus."
Additionally, Hamilton used multiple key words that are often associated with a younger team that is improving, citing growth, progress, increased maturity, and confidence on multiple occasions.
When the players entered the media room where they would be interviewed after the game, it was immediately clear that there was truth to the confidence that the team, especially the freshmen, had gained through the hard-earned victory. Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon seemed as laid back as they have been after any game all season and were unable to keep themselves from smiling.
Although some of this can surely be attributed to the short-term feeling of winning a potentially essential game, their words backed up the message of new-found confidence that Hamilton preached before they arrived.
"It's a great confidence booster." Beasley shared. "They're a great defensive team and I think it shows a lot about how many offensive weapons we have."
Sophomore point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes spoke highly of the team's development after the game, stating, "It's huge just to show how we're growing and maturing as a ball club. I think our younger guys are really doing a good job of allowing our older guys to help them in key situations. I think everybody is meshing together and doing a good job of becoming a team."
"A win like this over a top-15 team is big," Bacon said when asked about how this will help them going forward. "It gives us a lot of motivation. It gives us a lot of energy and it will give us a lot of energy for the next game."
That next game will be an immediate test of the Seminoles' progress, maturity, and confidence as they travel to Louisville Wednesday night to take on the 16th-ranked Cardinals in an attempt to get back to .500 in ACC play. From there, it doesn't get easier as FSU welcomes No. 20 Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Nonetheless, Beasley responded affirmatively when asked if the team's confidence is growing, explaining, "I think we are all coming together and knowing what we have to do to win."
Bacon agreed with Beasley's sentiments, confidently telling the media, "We know how good we are, we just gotta play up to that potential every game. Take no team lightly." If this Florida State team can do exactly that going forward, it will pose a difficult challenge to all teams in its path.