ATLANTA — When he saw his school's name pop up on the television screen, officially signaling a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Florida State's Toney Douglas tried his best not to let anyone packing the hotel restaurant see his reaction.
"I shed a tear or two," the senior guard said. "I didn't want anybody to see me, but I did. It's special. It's a special moment."
Not just for him but for the program.
The Seminoles (25-9) received the No. 5 seed in the East Region and open against No. 12 Wisconsin (19-12) on Friday in Boise, Idaho.
FSU hadn't earned a berth since 1998, one of the longest droughts for any team playing in one of the nation's six major conferences.
Oh, they'd been on the "bubble" several times in recent years, but Selection Sunday ended in dejection and relegation … to the NIT.
"The only year we really should have been in was three years ago when we won nine (league) games," said coach Leonard Hamilton, who watched the show from just outside the restaurant, eschewing the throng of FSU band members and dance team members as well as his players, his assistants and his support staff. "I was disappointed we were in that position, but that's behind us now, and I kind of want to keep it that way."
"We used to sit here hoping and praying our name would go up," senior forward Uche Echefu said. "It does feel real good. Everybody's happy, and now we have to take this opportunity and make the best of it."
It won't be easy.
Coach Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers are like the Seminoles in that they put a premium on keeping the game a halfcourt affair and defending. They have held opponents to an average of 59.0 points a game. It isn't always pretty for Wisconsin, but it is effective. This is the Badgers' eighth straight bid under Ryan and 11th straight overall that includes a Final Four trip in 2000 and an Elite Eight trip in 2005.
"They execute and get exactly what they want, and they've been successful year in and year out with that system," Hamilton said.
Historical note: Wisconsin is 2-0 against FSU, most recently beating the 'Noles 81-66 on Nov. 28, 2006.
Although the No. 5-No.12 opening-round matchup is renowned for upsets (there were two last year, Western Kentucky over Drake and Villanova over Clemson, both at the St. Pete Times Forum), CBS analyst Seth Davis said during the selection show that "Florida State is the dangerous team" in the Seminoles' part of the bracket.
"It's significant because we have a lot of young players, first-year players, who are going through this experience," Hamilton said of bid, "and I'm sure it's something they're going to remember and enjoy, and they're going be motivated to work as hard as they can and not ever be out of this situation again."