Bacon, Florida State look to remain hot vs. Temple

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Florida State men's basketball team celebrated its first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll on Monday in almost four years with a trip to the Big Apple and Round 3 of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

The Seminoles, who slipped in and grabbed the No. 25 slot in Monday's latest poll, are off to a 4-0 start and averaging 96.7 points a game. They have defeated Charleston Southern, Iona, Winthrop and Detroit to open the season.

The inclusion in the Top 25 Poll ends a near four-year drought for the program, which began the 2012-13 campaign ranked in the Top 25, only to fall out the very next week after a season-opening loss to South Alabama.

And just after the turkey goes into the oven on Thursday, that ranking will once again be at stake when the Seminoles suit up to play their third game of the Tip-Off against Temple (2-2) at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The two teams will face off in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the Barclays Center, and the winner will face either West Virginia or Illinois on Friday, depending on which program wins its 3:30 p.m. contest.

The fast start by the Seminoles has featured no shortage of scoring.

Paced by sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon, who is averaging 17.5 points per game after opting to return to the program rather than enter the NBA Draft, Florida State has put up 88, 99, 100 and 100 points, respectively, in its first four wins. The early-season effort by Bacon, who has led the Seminoles in scoring in three of the four games, has been complemented by an equally fast start from forward Jonathan Isaac, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward from nearby Naples, Fla. He was the crown jewel of Florida State's 2016 recruiting class.

Isaac is averaging 14.5 points and a team-high six rebounds a game, and the lone contest Bacon wasn't the high-scorer, that honor went to Isaac.

“We're a pretty good offensive team,” Florida State starting point guard and assists leader Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “We like to get out and run. That's what we've been preaching along, with defense. Getting out in transition and playing open-court basketball. These games we have shown we can play at a really high pace. We're doing what we want to and getting wins while doing it.”

Stellar defense has aided Florida State's fast start — the Seminoles recorded 11 steals and notched six blocks in Sunday's win against Detroit — and the only knock so far early in the season has been on the team's free-throw shooting. The Seminoles are currently shooting 72 percent from the foul line as a team and have had double-digit misses from the foul line twice already this year.

Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who just began his 15th season and is the program's all-time winningest coach, says he's pleased with the fast start, But he remembers the last time the Seminoles were ranked — and how quickly that ranking came and went — so he remains cautiously optimistic heading into Thursday's matchup with the Owls.

“We're a team that's still developing. We've got three games in five days coming up against higher quality opponents,” said Hamilton, whose team will come home to meet Minnesota (4-0) on Monday to kick off the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. “I'm interested to see how we come out of that little stretch.”

Junior Obi Enechionyia leads the Owls with 20.8 points per game, and he is the first player since Temple All-American Mark Macon in 1987-88 to score 20 or more points in the Owls' first three contests to start season. Temple's defense is averaging 6.8 blocks per game.

Temple leads the all-time series with Florida State, 2-1, including two wins in a row. They last met 17 years ago in 1999, with the Owls winning, 69-58.