CHICAGO — There are times when a lower-seeded NCAA Tournament team needs a little magic to win the kind of game Florida State did here on Sunday night. A shot that just beats the final buzzer. A ball that bounces one way instead of the other.
The Seminoles, seeded 10th in the Southwest Region, needed no such magic. From start to finish during its 71-57 victory against No. 2 seed Notre Dame, FSU was the superior team. And now the Seminoles are headed to San Antonio, Texas, and to its first Sweet 16 since 1993.
Back then that run, which ended in the Elite Eight, wasn't so much of a surprise. This one is.
"Only in my wildest dreams," said guard Bernard James, who led FSU with 14 points despite being nauseated all morning. "I'm living my dream right now."
The Seminoles play 11th-seeded VCU on Friday in the region semifinal in the first 10 vs. 11 matchup in tournament history, according to STATS LLC.
And for the first time in the same NCAA Tournament, FSU and Florida are both in the Sweet 16.
FSU was supposed to be overmatched Sunday by one of the best shooting teams in the nation. It was supposed to wilt against the Fighting Irish and their five senior starters.
Instead, it was Notre Dame that appeared to be the more timid team — the more scared. FSU led by double digits throughout the second half and led at one point by 23 before Notre Dame went on an 11-0 run.
The Irish's burst was aided by a technical foul that came after Ben Hansbrough made a 3 from the top of the key. FSU guard Michael Snaer, who thought he had been fouled on the play, jumped off the floor and yelled in the direction of an official, who called him for the technical.
Notre Dame used it to cut its deficit to 12, but the Irish came no closer, falling to 0-8 against ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Seminoles shot 44.7 percent and held Notre Dame to 31 percent.
"I thought our guys were really focused, they stuck with the game plan, they executed, made the extra pass and moved the ball," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton told TBS. "We stuck to the plan by playing good, solid fundamental defense."
After leading by 11 at halftime, FSU stretched it to 17 four minutes into the second half. It did it with the same style that carried it through the first half: relentless defense that allowed Notre Dame few chances to score and with an offense that made the most of its chances.
FSU played perhaps its best half of the season during the first 20 minutes. The Seminoles shot just 40.7 percent but made 7 of 12 from behind the 3-point line.
While the Seminoles were putting on a shooting display from the perimeter that was as good as any this season, their defense was doing what it does best: making life miserable for an opposing offense.
Notre Dame went into the tournament boasting a 46.6 percent field-goal percentage, and it had converted nearly 40 percent of its 3-pointers.
But for most of the way the Irish appeared lost against the Seminoles' aggressive man-to-man.
On offense, FSU during the first half received the kind of breaks that sometimes a lower-seeded team needs to make a tournament run. Luke Loucks, a former Clearwater High standout, made a 3 that fell through the net after bouncing twice on the front of the rim. Freshman guard Ian Miller banked in a long 3-pointer from the left wing.
But overall, the Seminoles didn't need luck.