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With no O, solid D means nothing for Florida State Seminoles in NCAA Tounrnament

Florida State’s Chris Singleton, right, looks on in dejection toward the end of the first-round loss to Gonzaga.

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Florida State’s Chris Singleton, right, looks on in dejection toward the end of the first-round loss to Gonzaga.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Forget the score for a moment. No sense dwelling on what might have been.

And you might want to forget the bracket, too. Why stare at another one-and-done effort in the NCAA Tournament?

Instead, think of how close Florida State is to being a program of distinction. Think of how young the players are. Think of how well they played defense for much of the season.

If nothing else, Friday night's 67-60 loss to Gonzaga showed the Seminoles that they need to correct only a handful of deficiencies in their game.

Rebounding, for instance. Along with ballhandling.

And scoring.

Yes, more scoring would be good. Feel free to write that one down.

Okay, so I feel a little dirty poking fun of the 'Noles this morning. They're certainly a likable group of guys. They play with passion, and they play with heart. They won 22 games and finished third in the ACC, and that's more than most people expected out of them.

But, my gosh, do you think they could mix in a game of H-O-R-S-E at practice?

These guys missed shots directly in front of the hoop. They missed putbacks. They missed free throws, and they missed enough 3-pointers to make you wonder if the whole team was nearsighted.

FSU went up 2-0 in the first minute and then played as if it expected the lead to hold up.

"We do it all of the time. We dig ourselves a big hole," guard Derwin Kitchen said. "It's very frustrating. I don't have enough words to explain how frustrating it is to go through that again."

The defense was not great, but it was good enough.

Gonzaga came in averaging almost 78 points and was held to 67. Even the ballhandling and passing were good enough after Clearwater's Luke Loucks came off the bench to take over at point guard.

But the Seminoles had no one they could depend on to take a shot.

Senior Ryan Reid went 0-of-8 from the field. Center Solomon Alabi was 5-of-12, despite taking all of his shots a few feet from the basket. Freshman Michael Snaer missed all three of his free throws in the final minutes.

And don't assume this was a team going cold at the wrong moment. This has been a problem pretty much all season. If it's not the perimeter game, it's the turnovers. If it's not the turnovers, it's the free-throw shooting. Whatever it takes to struggle, FSU is capable of pulling it off.

"We fought and fought, and I'm proud of the team for that, but it was too little, too late," said Loucks, who played a season-high 31 minutes. "We were getting decent looks at the basket in the first half; we just weren't going up strong enough and confident enough."

With Loucks directing the show in the second half, the offense began to find some traction.

FSU had five turnovers and three assists in the first half and then came back with three turnovers and 12 assists in the second half.

Still, there is no sense of identity to the offense. There is no bread-and-butter play. There is no shooter consistent enough to make an opponent wary. You can say it was expected with last season's departure of first-round pick Toney Douglas, but shouldn't there have been someone waiting in the wings as FSU's new go-to guy?

Even when the Seminoles cut the score to 59-55 with 2:21 remaining, it was hard to see them pulling off the comeback because you couldn't imagine who was going to take the winning shot.

"Had we shot anywhere close to a decent percentage in the first half, maybe it would have given us a little more of an opportunity," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "But when you look back at the open looks that we had that just didn't go down, for a young, inexperienced team, sometimes that saps your emotions a little bit."

It is true the Seminoles are still growing. Reid is the only scholarship senior on the team. Of their five leading scorers Friday, one was a junior, three were sophomores and one was a freshman.

And, even without a true scoring threat, this group put FSU in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since Pat Kennedy was patrolling the sidelines in the early 1990s. The Seminoles finished fourth in the ACC last season and moved up to third this year.

But the next step has to be taken. The momentum has to be seized.

It's one thing to be hard-nosed and tenacious on defense, but it's another thing to be considered an elite program. And FSU is not going to get there unless it figures out how to avoid those long stretches without a score.

"We're still a very young team. That's not an excuse, but it's the truth. I think one more offseason of work, and getting acquainted with the system, is going to help," Loucks said. "But nobody cares about that right now. Everyone is leaving here with a sour taste in their mouths."

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

With no O, solid D means nothing for Florida State Seminoles in NCAA Tounrnament 03/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 12:56am]

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