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By building stronger bond, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes lead FSU to new heights

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Lost in the frantic finish of Florida State's 83-80 win over No. 15 Notre Dame on Wednesday came a moment that might have seemed unlikely a year earlier.

The Fighting Irish were assessed a technical foul late in the first half, giving Dwayne Bacon two free throws to pad his team's six-point lead. Bacon missed both shots and was visibly frustrated after each miss.

Each time Bacon stepped back from the free-throw line, he was given reassurance by teammate Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The exchange, while one of several in the game, was a strong example of the improved chemistry between two of the Seminoles' veteran leaders.

Friction existed between Bacon and Rathan-Mayes at times last season, and it seeped into a team that was already struggling with its identity. FSU finished 20-14, missed the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight season and fell well short of expectations.

As for this season, it's late January and the No. 10 Seminoles (17-2, 5-1 ACC) are one of the most interesting stories in college basketball.

Their brand is depth. FSU consistently uses 12 players to wear down opponents, sometimes with wholesale line changes or, if needed, alterations to match a specific game plan. It's proved extremely successful and could do so again against No. 12 Louisville (16-3, 4-2 ACC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

FSU entered January with the task of playing six straight ranked ACC opponents. A win against the Cardinals would give the Seminoles a 5-1 record in those games.

At the heart of the team's success is the improved relationship between Bacon and Rathan-Mayes, who used the summer to air out grievances, establish a plan of getting the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament and eventually develop a genuine friendship.

"It starts with 'Bake' and I. When people have seen that me and Bake are clicking, that me and Bake are getting along and the best of friends, it trickles down to everybody else," said Rathan-Mayes, the Seminoles' junior point guard. "We've developed a great relationship and we trust one another. We continue to believe in and trust one another each and every game."

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