FSU wary of dangerous Murray State, crafts plan to slow Racers star Ja Morant

The Florida State Seminoles will be playing with heavy hearts Saturday in the wake of learning after Thursday’s 76-69 first-round win over Vermont about the death of forward Phil Cofer’s father.

All things considered, FSU seemed in good spirits Friday afternoon, with Wyatt Wilkes still playfully interviewing teammates to continue his “Walking with Wyatt” series.

The general consensus among the No. 4 seed Seminoles (28-7) Friday was that it is a struggle, but they’ll support Cofer while preparing to face a dangerous Murray State (28-4) team that boasts one of the most talented players in the tournament in Ja Morant.

After logging a triple-double against Marquette in the first round and earning a lot of national attention, Morant isn’t surprising anyone with his versatile skills.

Florida State’s plan is to work together to apply defensive pressure and slow down Murray State.

“We just can’t get caught up in it. We have to guard Murray State; we don’t have to guard Ja Morant,” FSU guard David Nichols said. “They have more than one player capable of scoring and making plays. We just have to know every player personally and be ready for every individual player that they have.”

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton echoed those sentiments, saying Morant is “a tremendous player, but it’s still going to be Florida State’s defensive schemes against Murray State’s offensive schemes.”

The Seminoles know they are taking on the defending Ohio Valley champions who like to get up the floor and move the ball. The Racers had 23 assists against Marquette Thursday, and Nichols said they’re dangerous in transition.

“They’re a team that turns their defense into offense,” he said. “They run hard in transition. They find the open guys. They’re very unselfish and they play very connected.”

A Vermont player landed on Nichols’ legs Thursday and the FSU senior appeared to be hobbled after the game, but he said Friday he will be ready to go against Murray State.

Tipoff for the FSU-Murray State matchup is set for 6:10 p.m., and the game will air on TNT.

Junior guard Trent Forrest said with a playmaker like Morant leading Murray State, the Seminoles can’t let the Racers get into a groove.

“Kind of what Terance [Mann] said, just kind try to disrupt him as much as you can,” Forrest said. “It's kind of hard to stop a player who likes to pass and get the ball to his teammates because you never know if he's going to attack or pass. Probably just disrupt his rhythm is the biggest thing for us.”

Murray State coach coach Matt McMahon said FSU is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament, and his team will have to compensate for being undersized compared the Seminoles.

“I touched on their elite defense, so our ability to execute at the offensive end will be critical,” he said. “Obviously, you see they have great size at every position. They're relentless to the offensive glass. Can we compete with them on the boards? I think that will be important. How we're able to guard them will be critical.”

Murray State’s tallest player is 6-foot-9 freshman forward KJ Williams. During Friday’s press conference, Morant said facing a team with Florida State’s size will be a new challenge.

“They are a very long and athletic team,” he said. “We haven't seen a team like that before since Alabama. But we're just going to go into the game the same way we've been going into every game. Just try to play our game and just do what we do.”

FSU forward Mfiondu Kabengele said while the Seminoles have a size advantage inside, they have to focus on the fundamentals because Murray State is a strong rebounding team.

“With a team like that, you have to play straight up. You have to respect them,” he said. “They won their conference; that means they’re used to winning and they have talented players across the board.

“We have to play our game and focus on ourselves, which is get rebounds, get out in transition, run our offense and just do what we do the Florida State basketball way and let the chips fall where they may.”

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