NASHVILLE — Florida State had trailed 14th-seeded St. Bonaventure from the opening tip, the newly crowned ACC champs falling behind by as many as 10 points and the Bonnies' faithful standing out in an emotional, vocal crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
Third seed FSU had trailed by six with 10 minutes to play and had rallied to tie, but its first two chances at its first lead had failed. Sophomore guard Ian Miller, who had opened the game 1-for-7 and missed a go-ahead shot a minute earlier, stepped up with a shot that put the Seminoles ahead for good, the centerpiece of a 16-2 run that let FSU escape with a 66-63 victory in the NCAA second round.
"That's what you live for," said Miller, who added a key assist a moment later on a Luke Loucks 3-pointer. "You're in the NCAA Tournament, you're in a big gym, and for me and my team, they know I can make big shots. They have confidence in me, and that helps me take shots like that."
FSU (25-9) advanced to face sixth seed Cincinnati on Sunday, getting a huge game from Bernard James with 19 points and nine rebounds, and a strong finish from Loucks and fellow Clearwater alumnus Okaro White, who combined for FSU's final 11 points.
"They came out fists swinging, and we didn't really hit back until maybe 10 minutes to go in the second half," said Loucks, who had 13 points and six assists. "So all the credit to them. We really, really had to fight to win that game."
St. Bonaventure (20-12), which made the NCAAs by winning the Atlantic-10 tournament as a No. 4 seed, got a huge game from forward Andrew Nicholson, who had 20 points and went 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. Much of the defensive responsibility of limiting the NBA prospect went to James.
"I just felt like I did what my team needed," James said. "I played as hard as I could and, you know, wasn't being selfish … Our guards were kind of struggling a little bit with shooting, so I really needed to step up."
FSU held off a furious rally late — twice in the final minute, St. Bonaventure's Demitrius Conger hit 3-pointers to cut into FSU's lead, which was 65-63 with 27 seconds left. Deividas Dulkys missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but White leaped and flipped the loose ball out to Loucks, who was fouled. He hit one free throw, and the Bonnies missed two shots in the final four seconds to seal FSU's win.
"We did what we needed to do. We came here to win the game, and we were very close," Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. "It was a great college basketball game, great environment. Appreciate our fans coming out, they were terrific. Couldn't ask more."
FSU got more of a challenge than they might have expected, but the game was won with stout defense — in that 16-2 run, which gave FSU a 60-52 lead, the Bonnies went 1-for-10 with three turnovers in nearly eight minutes. That was key on a day when leading scorer Michael Snaer was scoreless for the first time in 98 career games with FSU.
"They gave us one of the best fights of our season," said Miller, who had eight points. "We came out a little flat, and St. Bonaventure, they executed on our non-energy. The second half, it was do or die, so we knew we had to turn it up on the defensive end."