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No. 8 Seminoles expecting Hokies' best performance

No. 8 Seminoles expecting Hokies' best performance

When No. 8 Florida State and Virginia Tech meet Thursday night only the Seminoles will be playing for high stakes.

The Hokies (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) are in the midst of their worst season in 20 years and fighting just to become bowl eligible.

It's exactly the kind of setup Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel has warned his teammates about this week - a struggling team putting its best effort forward on a big stage.

``I think I saw that a little bit in the N.C. State game,'' Manuel said of Florida State's lone loss, 17-16 at N.C. State on Oct. 6. ``Not to say that we took them lightly, but they played lights out, they had a good game. ... If they get a chance to knock us off, it will kind of make their season.''

The Hokies have three games remaining, and need to win two to qualify for a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season. They still have games against Boston College and Virginia, but beating the Seminoles would be a big boost.

And despite how frustrating the season has been, Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller knows they have the talent to win.

``I know what we can do,'' Fuller said. ``I'm not feeling sorry for us. We can't settle. We've let a lot of games get away from us this season. We can't settle with that. We have to improve and gain back those games that we lost. This would be a great one to do it.''

The Hokies and Seminoles (8-1, 5-1) have split four meetings since Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, each winning once when the matchups came in the ACC championship game. The Hokies have never seen a Seminoles team as accomplished as they will this time.

It starts with Manuel, who hails from Virginia Beach. He's completing 70 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also makes plays with his feet as Clemson learned when he threw for 380 yards and ran for 102 more in a 49-37 victory on Sept. 22.

With the very efficient Manuel at the controls, the Seminoles rank third nationally with an average of nearly 45 points per game. Making the challenge more daunting, they allow just 227 yards per game, best in the country, and rank in the top four in rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense (12 ppg).

A stout defense is the last thing the Hokies need to see.

In last week's 30-12 loss to Miami, they moved the ball well, but their only touchdown came on a 73-yard run by quarterback Logan Thomas. Several trips into the red zone came up empty, and a solid defensive performance was stymied by special teams mistakes that set up two short touchdown drives for Miami.

Coach Frank Beamer thought his team put it all together in a 41-20 victory against Duke on Oct. 13, but they followed that with a 38-17 loss at Clemson, and then last week's frustration against the Hurricanes.

He still believes it's only a matter of time before they get it all working again.

``When you get playing well, you get some momentum, you make a play, you make another play, now here comes a turnover,'' the coach in his 26th season said. ``When you're on the other side of that, everything's kind of a struggle. I personally believe if you keep playing hard, all of a sudden, it's going to turn around. I do believe we're a good football team. We just haven't always played well.''

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher expects them to see that turnaround on Thursday night, especially on the big stage.

``They're 4-5 and they're going to want a winning record and go to a bowl game, so this will be a significant game,'' Fisher said. ``I think everyone looks at us this way. People look at us and target that and that's something we have to face and prepare for. We can't control how they play, all we can do is control how we play and how we prepare mentally to go in there and be ready to play a game on the road.''

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How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

As the Clippers scored 40 points in the first quarter and led 73-54 at halftime. she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half? Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially even with a different starting lineup. 

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seem plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars led. The team played like a group wanting to play for each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris over hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation, Wizards ball. Washington then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break. Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have work to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” said Beal, who remained in the game after suffering a cut over his eye following a head-butt collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because his son, Austin, serves Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

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Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

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