SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida State seems to be using a road map similar to last year, when it overcame a rocky start en route to the program's first Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
But what will the final destination this year?
FSU used a strong second-half performance Saturday to earn an 82-63 victory against Tulsa in the first game of the Orange Bowl Classic at the BB&T Center.
The victory extended Florida State's winning streak to four games, which has followed a three-game losing streak. It also marked the second of five straight road games for the Seminoles (8-4).
Last season, Florida State was 9-6 after dropping their ACC opener at Clemson. They ended up the regular season 21-9 (12-4 in the league) and captured the program's first ACC tournament title.
A repeat this season currently seems to be a longshot, despite returning four of its top five scorers from last year's team and being ranked No. 25 in the preseason AP rankings.
FSU will play at Auburn on Jan. 2 before starting ACC play at Clemson and Maryland. The Seminoles finally return home to play... North Carolina.
"This is probably what we need, to be in unfriendly environments," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I think it's going to bring us closer together. We realize we have very little room for error now if we're going to have postseason opportunities."
Hamilton, in his 11th year at Tallahassee, has taken the Seminoles the NCAA Tournament each of the past four years -- a streak could be jeopardy.
The Seminoles won four in a row following an opening-season loss to South Alabama. Then came what could be a costly non-conference slide, with three home losses -- to Minnesota and Mercer... Mercer?... before being routed 72-47 by state rival Florida.
A loss to Tulsa, coached by former Kansas star Danny Manning, would have been a fifth non-conference defeat. Can you say, "N-I-T?"
Florida State led 36-33 at halftime, with Tulsa staying close thanks largely to Pat Swilling Jr.'s shooting (5 of 7) from 3-point territory.
Florida State junior forward Terrance Shannon left the bench to provide 9 of his 16 points in the first half. He also finished with 10 rebounds.
"When I went home over the break, I just spent more time running and getting in better condition," Shannon said. "In the second half of the season, we'll have to step it up and I want to be that driving force."
Shannon's contribution was not lost on Manning.
"He comes in with a great motor," the Hurricanes coach said.
Despite Shannon's "motor," FSU led only by three points after 20 minutes. Whatever Hamilton told his team during intermission worked. FSU increased its defensive intensity increased, which helped create some easy baskets. Half-court sets flowed better and also resulted in hoops from in close.
"Really, it was about us executing our stuff and reversing the ball a little bit more, give Tulsa a chance to break down, and we did a great job of that," senior guard Michael Snaer said.
Snaer and Shannon join guard Ian Miller and forward Okaro White in forming a veteran nucleus. Miller sat Saturday with a bruised foot.
Florida State's rotation, however, included freshman guards Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon, and 7-foot redshirt junior Kiel Turpin, a Division II transfer.
"It's similar to last year, except his year we're a much younger team," Snaer said. "We still have guys trying to figure out their roles. I was trying to figure out my role, but I think I got it down.
"The only problem we had early was our veteran guys didn't take up much of the slack when the young guys were trying to come along. We were putting too much pressure on them early."
That pressure remains. Will the youngsters be up to the challenge?
"We're still a work in progress," Hamilton said. "We're not anywhere close to being as sound in all areas as I know we're going to need to be if we're going to compete as well as we have in the past in the ACC."