At a timeout with about five minutes left in Wednesday night's game between Florida State and Miami, one of Xavier Rathan-Mayes' teammates approached him with a challenge.
"Montay Brandon looked at me and told me that he needed me," Rathan-Mayes said. "When one of your brothers says that he needs you, you're going to do anything you can to respond to that call."
Florida State indeed desperately needed a spark from Rathan-Mayes after falling behind by 18 points on the road against a Miami team determined to play its way into the NCAA tournament. Whatever slim chance the defensive-oriented Seminoles had of mounting a comeback depended on their leading scorer emerging from a game-long slump and shooting them back into striking distance.
Inspired by his teammate's words, Rathan-Mayes unleashed a late-game shooting display that will linger in the memory of those who witnessed it long after they've forgotten that Florida State still lost 81-77 in spite of his heroics. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of Wednesday's game, a stunningly swift barrage that included six 3-pointers, a pair of layups and eight free throws.
To put into perspective what Rathan-Mayes accomplished, consider that only two college basketball players scored more points in a whole game Wednesday night than the Florida State freshman managed in less than five minutes. He finished with a career high-tying 35 points, but the way he got them was unlike anything he had achieved before on the basketball court.
"In high school I scored 55 in a game, but that was throughout the course of the game," Rathan-Mayes said. "To score how I was doing it today, I've never done that before. The only thing I've seen like that was when I was watching the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson scored 37 in one quarter."
Rathan-Mayes' scoring barrage represents the culmination of a season in which he has begun to carve his own legacy after spending the previous couple years in the shadow of one of his closest friends.
Last June's No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins was a longtime teammate of Rathan-Mayes both on the grassroots circuit and at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Rathan-Mayes was so stuck in the sidekick role that when he announced he was committing to Florida State in Oct. 2012, most of the discussion that followed focused on whether his presence gave Florida State legit hope of landing Wiggins too.
Wiggins ultimately spent his lone year in college at Kansas, but Rathan-Mayes has turned out to be far more than just a consolation prize.
Though he had to sit out all of last season due to academic issues, Rathan-Mayes averages 13.6 points and has eclipsed double figures in 14 of his last 17 games. The former Rivals 150 recruit also leads Florida State in assists at 4.4 per game and steals at 1.1 per game.
There were no warning signs Rathan-Mayes was about to do anything special Wednesday night when he began his onslaught by curling around a left-wing screen and burying a deep 3-pointer over Angel Rodriguez with 4:38 remaining. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary a possession later either when he drew a foul on Rodriguez on a top-of-the-key 3-pointer and sank all three free throws.
The tone changed during the next few possessions when Rathan-Mayes started sinking pull-up 3-pointers, burying long-distance catch-and-shoot threes and splitting double teams off the dribble. He even banked in a 3-pointer and drew a foul on a late-closing Davon Reed to pull Florida State within three points with 1:03 to go.
"It's a feeling I can't really describe," Rathan-Mayes said. "The arena was quiet. It was like I was in there by myself. It was a feeling I've never, ever felt before. There was nothing else happening around me."
Of the 33 points Florida State scored in the final 4:38, Rathan-Mayes had all but three of them. The only points he didn't score came via a 3-pointer by Robbie Berwick that Rathan-Mayes set up by drawing the defense and kicking the ball out.
Florida State eventually had the ball down three with just a few ticks left on the clock, but Miami would not let Rathan-Mayes attempt a 3-pointer. Angel Rodriguez committed a foul, Rathan-Mayes sank the first free throw and intentionally missed the second and the Hurricanes recovered, enabling them to escape with a narrow victory.
Though the enduring memory of Wednesday's game will be Rathan-Mayes catching fire in the final few minutes, the freshman views his performance as bittersweet because the Seminoles still lost the game. Rathan-Mayes insists he had no idea how many points he scored in the final five minutes until he overheard Miami coach Jim Larranaga telling his assistants in the hallway outside the Hurricanes locker room.
"I was surprised, but it mattered more to me that we lost," Rathan-Mayes said. "I told my guys after the game I'm extremely proud of how we fought back. We told each other we would never give up and we would keep fighting, and I'm proud of how we did that tonight."
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