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Florida vs. FSU, Game Thread: Gators seek to end Seminoles’ streak

And if not now, then when?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators have not beaten the Florida State Seminoles in men’s basketball in five years and five meetings.

It’s the longest such streak for the Seminoles in a rivalry that Florida has largely dominated over its existence, and one that has featured the most baffling result and most lopsided defeat for the Gators in series history.

And it probably ends this Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN).

The Gators are ticketed for glory this year, with their additions of Virginia Tech transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. and freshmen Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, and Omar Payne to a talented sophomore core of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson making Mike White’s bunch a top-10 team and a trendy Final Four — or national championship — pick.

Florida State, meanwhile, might be in for its first true rebuilding season in a while under the ageless Leonard Hamilton. The Seminoles won games in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, making the Elite Eight in 2018 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2019, but the bulk of the NBA-level talent that powered that run is now playing professionally, with only senior Trent Forrest remaining from the 2017 team that made FSU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years and did so with a No. 3 seed matching the best in school history.

And the Seminoles are 0-1 on the year, with their loss coming in an opening-night ACC matchup against Pittsburgh — and just days before Pittsburgh would lay an egg in a meeting with Nicholls State. Forrest had 19 points and sophomore Devin Vassell added 14 for the Seminoles in the loss, but Forrest’s five turnovers were more than a third of FSU’s 14, and just one fewer than their six assists. Poor distance shooting — FSU was just 6-for-20 on threes, with Vassell and Anthony Polite being the only players to make multiple treys — also helped doom them to a 63-61 loss despite Pitt making just seven of its 25 two-pointers.

Given that context, Florida’s own struggles from deep against North Florida (3-for-15) don’t look so bad. Blackshear made one of those threes, and also helped power a Florida attack that was devastating inside (26-for-54 on twos, 19 offensive rebounds and a 45.2 offensive rebounding percentage) against the veteran-laden Ospreys. His 20 and 10 line probably isn’t going to be a nightly thing for the Gators, but he also might feel like he owes the Seminoles a great game, given that their towering frontcourt often gave him problems at Virginia Tech prior to a 17-point, nine-rebound showing in an overtime loss in the 2019 ACC Tournament.

And this isn’t the same formidable frontcourt that Hamilton usually trots out, with only freshman Balsa Koprivica standing taller than seven feet. While FSU still has plenty of lanky defenders to trouble Florida’s wings, Blackshear should be able to stand tall inside for the Gators — who should, barring a truly poor shooting night, finally get back to winning ways against their in-state rival.