Seminoles, Gators prepare for in-state collision (Dec 11, 2016)

Florida State’s prep for Sunday’s home game with Florida? Three straight blowout wins over George Washington, Southern Mississippi and Nicholls State by an average of 41 points.

The Gators’ last game before meeting their fierce in-state rivals? An 84-74 loss Tuesday night to preseason No. 1 Duke at Madison Square Garden.

The divergent approaches clash at Tucker Center in Tallahassee, where the Seminoles (9-1) will try to claim their third straight win over the 21st-ranked Gators (7-2). And if this game is anything like the last two, it will probably come down to a dramatic finish.

When the teams last met two seasons ago in Tallahassee, Florida State prevailed in one of the weirdest ways imaginable. The Gators’ Jacob Kurtz scored an “own” basket as time expired, tipping an attempted rebound into the Seminoles’ goal to give them a 65-63 win.

Last season, Florida State won in more conventional fashion. Dwayne Bacon hit a mid-range jumper with 4.6 seconds left in Gainesville to secure a 73-71 verdict.

“The Gators are always a big-time game, big-time atmosphere,” Seminoles guard Xavier Rathan-Mays said. “It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to for the last week. We didn’t want to look past anybody, but we knew we had Florida coming up on Sunday and we’re super-excited for the game.”

Given how it thumped Nicholls State 118-63 Thursday night, Florida State couldn’t be accused of putting it in cruise. It was the highest-scoring game in coach Leonard Hamilton’s 15 seasons and the program’s most points in a game since 1988, when it was a member of the long-defunct Metro Conference.

Hamilton posed a challenge to the Seminoles before Thursday night’s mismatch.

“We knew going into it we would have this team outmanned,” he said. “We challenged them to see whether or not they could go play a game and not anybody take a possession off. We’re trying to develop that junkyard dog mentality.”

In a sense, so are the Gators. While a 10-point loss to a loaded Duke team isn’t exactly an embarrassment, they were upset by how they lost. There were mental errors such as missed boxouts leading to points and ill-timed turnovers.

Second-year Florida coach Mike White, who played under Rob Evans two decades ago at Ole Miss, borrowed one of his coach’s old tactics in preparing for this game. When a player committed a mistake that could have been prevented, like a botched defensive assignment or failed boxout, White called out the error and benched the offender.

“If we practice it now, there won’t be any surprises come game time,” center Kevarrius Hayes said. “It also makes us more accountable. If you want to be on the court and trying to help your team, you can’t hurt your team at the same time.”

Guard KeVaughn Allen, who lit up Florida State for 32 points last season, paces the Gators at 13.3 points per game. Bacon is leading the Seminoles at 16.6 ppg and 6-foot-10 freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, who should return after missing the last three games with a hip flexor injury, is at 15.1 ppg and 7.3 rebounds.