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'Noles closing in on 20 wins

Entering Florida State's first Atlantic Coast Conference season, coach Pat Kennedy's goals were 18 victories and an 8-8 finish in league play.

Saturday, the 23rd-ranked Seminoles (18-6, 10-4) assured themselves of both goals, ripping Georgia Tech 80-67 to pick up their 18th victory and give them a chance at 20 victories with three games left.

"Eighteen wins was a goal and 8-8 in the ACC would have made it a great year for us," Kennedy said. "I think this team felt all along like they're better than 18 wins, and now they have a couple of games to prove it."

The victory gave Kennedy a share of the ACC record for victories by a first-year coach. Press Maravich had 10 at North Carolina State in 1965-66.

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said he's impressed with FSU's first season in ACC play. So impressed, in fact, Cremins said he would give Kennedy his vote as this season's top ACC coach.

"He's done an absolutely marvelous job," Cremins said. "He gets my vote for coach of the year.

"They're something. I just can't say enough about them. They have a lot of weapons and come at you a lot of different ways."

Florida State has swept Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina State this season.

FSU guard Sam Cassell said the 18 victories aren't surprising. He said the Seminoles should have 20 by now.

"We let a couple of games get away from us, like Virginia (Jan. 4) and South Florida (Dec. 20)," Cassell said. "But we were a different team at South Florida."

What made the difference for FSU on Saturday was the three-pointer. Cassell, who had 22 points, was 6-of-10 from three-point range.

"I've been in a slump outside the line," said Cassell, who had hit just under 31 percent of his three-point shots until Saturday. "The coaches told me to take the shot if I have it get my legs into it."

Cremins: "He just lines up and throws the three and he just breaks your back. He reminds me of (former Tech star) Dennis Scott."

As a team, FSU hit 10 three-pointers. It was the most for FSU since it hit 11 in a 99-79 victory over Jacksonville last year.

"The three-pointer really bailed us out," Kennedy said. "We hit some big-time shots."

The three-point marksmanship also allowed FSU to overcome poor foul shooting. The Seminoles were 1-of-8 from the line in the first half and finished 10-of-21.

"There have been some good teams that haven't been able to shoot well from the foul line and were still able to win," Kennedy said. "I just keep telling the guys to relax when they're shooting because I think we've been too uptight."

Tech (16-8, 4-7) twice built seven-point leads in the first half, the last at 21-14 with 7:27 left, before the Seminoles started cashing in on three-pointers. FSU led 39-35 at halftime before blowing the game open late in the second.

"We hung in there for a while," Cremins said. "But eventually we lost our composure."

FSU guard Charlie Ward said the Seminoles now have their sights set on bigger things, like going a long way in the NCAA Tournament. The 'Noles lost in the second round last season.

"Now we have to strive for something else, like getting to the Sweet 16," Ward said. "We want to take it further than last year."

The Seminoles are 11-2 since Ward took over at the point. He was not available full time until completing the football season. Ward was the lone FSU starter not in double figures, but he finished with nine points and eight assists while holding Tech freshman Travis Best scoreless in the second half. Best had 10 points in the first half.

Saturday's game also was a reunion for Florida State's 1972 team, which lost to unbeaten UCLA 81-76 in the NCAA finals. The team was honored during a halfime ceremony before the crowd of 12,103.

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