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Florida State Seminoles program still moving up despite loss to VCU in NCAA Tournament

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — You learned to love their devotion to teamwork. You came to appreciate the sensibility of players putting egos aside.

For that is what made Florida State different. All season long, it is what made the Seminoles special.

And in the end, being unselfish may have contributed to their undoing.

Driving to the basket in the final seconds of overtime against Virginia Commonwealth in the Southwest Region semifinal Friday night, FSU senior Derwin Kitchen opted not to take the final shot. He passed to Chris Singleton whose shot was blocked at the buzzer.

And so the journey ends for Florida State with a 72-71 loss to the 11th-seeded Rams.

"We came up one play short," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Sometimes, in the arc of a shot, you can see the journey of a lifetime.

So when the ball left Singleton's fingertips from well beyond the 3-point line in the final minute of regulation, it was almost as if you had time to recall every detail of every moment along the way.

For it took years for the Seminoles to arrive here. They went through coaches and heartbreak. They went through recruits and disappointments.

And when Singleton's shot dropped safely through the net to tie the score, you were almost certain fate had finally arrived on FSU's side.

But Kitchen failed to get off a potential winning shot in the final 12 seconds of regulation, and then made the choice to put the ball in Singleton's hands at literally the last moment of overtime.

"When I slipped the defenders, I fumbled the ball a little bit and I didn't think I could get a good enough shot," Kitchen said. "So I passed the ball off, but there wasn't enough time."

The Seminoles had a 71-70 lead when VCU called a timeout with seven seconds remaining in overtime. The Rams took several seconds to get the in-bounds pass in, but then Bradford Burgess came open under the hoop for an easy layup.

"It was a mistake by me," Single­ton said. "I was guarding Burgess and I turned my head the wrong way, and he slipped … and got a clean look at the basket."

It was only the second time since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded in 1985 that two teams seeded No. 10 or weaker met in the Sweet 16.

Think about that. It's like Cinderella showing up for the royal ball and discovering some other scrub girl trying to hook up with Prince Charming.

FSU could not have asked for a better chance. The Seminoles survived the regular season in the ACC. They went through the Big 12 in their first NCAA game, beat the Big East in their second, and then got take out by the Colonial Athletic Association in the Sweet 16?

A Colonial team that finished behind George Mason, Old Dominion and Hofstra in the conference's regular season? A team that lost to USF?

The Rams could not hang with FSU on the boards, and they had no post players to speak of to work the ball inside, but they had a smart and effective game plan that left the Seminoles constantly scrambling to contest open shots.

VCU essentially took Florida State's greatest strength and used it against the Seminoles. FSU's defense is so aggressive, the Rams would make a pass, anticipate the overpursuit, and quickly send the pass right back to the now-open shooter.

And so a defense that held Texas A&M and Notre Dame to a combined 31 percent shooting from the field last weekend, watched as VCU hit 50 percent of its shots in the first half on Friday night.

"It was my last game. I'm kind of devastated," Kitchen said. "I really wanted to keep this going as long as possible, and to end my college career on basically a last-second shot feels pretty bad."

Still, this Florida State team deserves to be remembered for more than what has happened in the past eight days in the Southwest Region. Particularly what happened on the final day.

For what FSU's tournament run has done is it has shined a spotlight on how far the program has come in the past few years.

In the end, the scoreboard cannot be ignored. After all, it is the reason we care.

But, in this case, the final result should not be construed as the last word on a season.

The Seminoles may have lost a game, and they may have blown a rare opportunity, but they also reawakened a world of possibilities for Florida State basketball.

Florida State Seminoles program still moving up despite loss to VCU in NCAA Tournament 03/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 1:32am]
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