INDIANAPOLIS — RayQuan Evans and his Florida State teammates know exactly how quickly a tournament can change.
The Seminoles not only saw last year’s ACC and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments canceled, they saw positive COVID-19 cases remove perennial powers Duke and Virginia from this season’s ACC tournament. Florida State had its scheduled quarterfinal game with Duke canceled, then defeated North Carolina in a semifinal game before losing to Georgia Tech in the ACC championship.
FSU (16-6) now turns its attention the NCAA Tournament, which tips off Thursday in Indianapolis.
“Really just to take advantage of every opportunity,” Evans said of the team’s mindset entering the tournament. “Knowing that our season got canceled last year, who knows? We could wake up tomorrow and find out the tournament’s canceled. Just be thankful for every opportunity we get, but also take advantage of opportunities that we get.”
Evans, a former Billings Skyview High School star, is well-versed in making the most of his situation. In his second year at Florida State after transferring from North Idaho Junior College, Evans has started 15 games and is averaging 5.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and and 1.4 assists per game. He’s shooting 38.3% from the floor, 37.5% from 3-point range and 85.7% from the free throw line.
With Evans manning the point guard position, the Seminoles went 11-4 in ACC play and secured the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament. They’re ranked 14th in the country and were awarded a No. 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
“I feel like we’re playing good. We obviously have room to improve,” said Evans, a senior. “A couple mistakes that we had kind of cost us the (ACC) championship. Just learning, you got to learn from every loss, and I feel like that’s what our team is going to do, because every time we’ve lost I feel like we’ve bounced back very well. Watching film and learning what we did wrong in the championship will help us make a run in this tournament.”
While Florida State hasn’t lost consecutive games all season, the Seminoles do enter the Big Dance having lost three of their past five games. But March Madness isn’t about what teams have done to this point. It’s about what they do over the next three weeks to etch their place in college basketball lore.
“Of course I’m thankful to be here, and I’m trying not to get starstruck, because every kid dreams of being in March Madness and everything,” Evans said. “Just actually being here, I have a lot of emotions, but I’m just trying to focus and scout as much as I can for this game coming up Saturday.”
The Seminoles start their tournament against 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro. The Spartans are 21-8 this season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Southern Conference.
Of course, the tournament this year is going to look different than any previous year. Teams are already in the Indianapolis area, where the entire tournament will be played, and quarantining in their hotels. Florida State arrived Sunday, and the players will be mostly isolated to their hotel rooms except to practice.
“I’m not even sure our schedule, honestly,” Evans said. “I just know that as of right now we’re under quarantine and our coaches will tell us as we go, but I really don’t even know our own schedule.”
It’s a far cry from the traditional tournament atmosphere swathed in a one-of-a-kind experience and adoring fans. Like this year’s regular season, only a limited number of fans will be permitted in the arenas during the tournament.
“It would be nice to have all the fans, but I feel like just being here is a great enough experience itself,” Evans said. “There’s going to be a little bit of fans, and whether there was no fans at all, you’re still being able to compete in March Madness. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of. Just being able to be here, whether there’s fans or not, I’m still going to take advantage of this opportunity and embrace it.”
Evans and Florida State tip off against UNC Greensboro at 10:45 a.m. (MT) Saturday. The game will be broadcast on truTV.