Gators live for moment; Noles focus on longer journey

Maryland’s Damonte Dodd on NCAA tourney berth Jason Williams, once a brilliant and flashy point guard for the Florida Gators , dropped by Amway Center Wednesday afternoon to visit with the new guard.

“He just told us to enjoy the moment,” said junior forward Devin Robinson. “Play every game like it’s your last.”

Will Thursday be it for the Gators when they face East Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Orlando?

The Gators — and their frenemies, the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee — each have the same aspirations for this weekend’s games in O-Town:

Win and move on. But their paths diverge given the circumstances of the moment.

Florida is playing with house money after the season-ending injury to center John Egbunu in mid-February. FSU is locked and loaded with a deep roster and has a shot to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1972 when the ’Noles lost to UCLA in the national-title game.

There will be no shame in losing for either team, but there’s no easy workaround for Florida, which comes in after losing to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. Egbunu’s absence is forcing the Gators to adjust on the fly, a hole that involves 7.8 points and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds a game.

“Everybody has to do a little bit more than they were doing,” junior guard Chris Chiozza said. “We have to find a way to put stops together the way we did with him. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. No one else is going to be sorry for us.”

To be clear, there won’t be any pity parties if the Gators don’t make their way deep into The Dance.

The ’Noles live in a different universe. They come in as a third seed and are in the tournament for the first time since 2012. No doubt they looking to advance further than a regional semifinal, where they lost to Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.

There’s a blurry snapshot of 1972 in there, too, when FSU lost to Bill Walton’s Bruins in the title game. Walton held fast against Reggie Royals, Ron King, Greg Samuel and the others, with a game-high 24 points and 20 rebounds.

Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes are part of Generation Next for the Seminoles. These guys have no frame of reference for events from 45 years ago. They are in the here and now. That leads to a team with Sweet 16 potential and, who knows, maybe more, with the lucky bounce of the basketball that is the essence of March Madness.

The ’Noles aren’t exactly rolling thunder come tourney time, going 4-4 since Feb. 11. This came after a solid run earlier in the season when they beat Notre Dame , Louisville and Duke.“I think that stretch of games we went on there, our mindset was hunting people,” Rathan-Mayes said. “We were trying to earn our respect as a program and as a group of guys.”Florida Gulf Coast is FSU’s opponent late Thursday night and comes […]