Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

NCAA Tournament: Florida State survives vs. Florida Gulf Coast

ORLANDO — Florida State is back in the NCAA Tournament, and the Seminoles are coming for other schools' nicknames.

The third-seeded Seminoles, making their first NCAA appearance in five years, held off 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 86-80 late Thursday at Amway Center, spoiling the "Dunk City" underdogs and unofficially outdunking them 9-2.

"They're Dunk City, but I think our team led the nation in dunks, so it kind of speaks for itself," said FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac, who had two dunks as part of his double double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. "That's what we do. We're long, we're athletic."

The Seminoles (26-8) play at 6:10 p.m. Saturday in the West Region third round against 11th-seeded Xavier, a 76-65 winner over No. 6 Maryland earlier in the night. A win over the Musketeers will put FSU in the Sweet 16 for only the second time since 1993, nine years before Leonard Hamilton took over as coach.

"We had a lot of anxious moments," Hamilton said of his team's win. "In the beginning of the game, everybody kind of had that nervous exhaustion, so to speak. After two or three possessions they all were like they were stepping in mud, but that's part of being on this stage. Hopefully we'll be more relaxed as we move on to the next game.

"We were very fortunate to hang on for the victory."

FGCU (26-8) had hoped to relive the magic of its Dunk City run in 2013, and twice in the final 11 minutes the Eagles got within four points, only to have FSU's Dwayne Bacon (25 points) answer with a clutch jumper on the other end.

On the second one, FSU went up 66-60, then got a 3-pointer from Xavier Rathan-Mayes and a transition dunk by Isaac for a 71-60 lead.

The 'Noles used their size and physicality to a significant advantage on the boards, outrebounding FGCU 46-26. FSU's biggest players stepped up, with 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje getting seven points and four blocks and 7-foot-1, 304-pound Michael Ojo getting six points and two blocks. Their inside play helped offset FSU shooting a dismal 15 percent (2-of-13) from beyond the arc. The Seminoles also struggled from the free-throw line, just as they have throughout the season, shooting 62 percent (24-of-39).

Now the Seminoles have a clear path to the Sweet 16, facing another low seed in Xavier, having gotten past one upset-minded underdog already.

"I told Coach Ham it's been fun, with the exception of tonight, watching his team," fourth-year FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. "He's done a great job. The sky's the limit for them. They've got depth, athleticism. They can make a deep run in this tournament."

The Eagles, playing in the tournament for the third time in five years, got 28 points from guard Brandon Godwin, a UCF transfer, in a losing effort.

"I'm disappointed that we lost, but I don't think it diminishes the year we had," Dooley said. "It's disappointing but hopefully something we can build on moving forward."

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