Randell Jackson could not have chosen a better time to pick up his game.
Jackson, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, has been on a tear, averaging 16.8 points over the past five games, and is the main reason Florida State is in the NIT Final Four.
"I'm playing real well," Jackson said. "I was disappointed not getting into the NCAA Tournament, but I've used that to my advantage in the NIT. If we're going to play (the NIT), we might as well play to win it."
FSU (19-11), in the post-season for the first time in four years, faces Connecticut in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden tonight at 7. The Huskies (17-14) beat Nebraska 76-67 Friday to advance.
FSU senior James Collins tied a season high with 24 points and LaMarr Greer hit a three-pointer with 4:06 remaining in FSU's 76-71 quarterfinals win over West Virginia.
Center Corey Louis, who missed seven regular-season games due to injury, added 14 points and seven rebounds against the Mountaineers and seems to be near full strength. In FSU's first-round win over Syracuse, Louis scored nine points and had six rebounds in 17 minutes. He also came up big in the second round against Michigan State, scoring seven points in the second half.
Greer, averaging 12.3 points and 4 rebounds in the NIT, also has stepped it up in the post-season. He scored 16 second-half points against Syracuse and his three-pointer with 1:04 remaining gave FSU a four-point lead over Michigan State.
"I'm really proud the way our guys have responded here at the end of the season," coach Pat Kennedy said. "They are playing real determined and focused and are just going out and having fun."
Jackson has provided the biggest boost down the stretch. The Boston native is averaging 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2 blocks in FSU's three NIT games. He scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds at Syracuse and had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Michigan State.
"My confidence level is so high right now," said Jackson, who is shooting 66.7 percent (20-of-30) in the NIT. "My shot selection and rebounding are two really big keys. (Also), I'm playing with an offense that runs up and down the floor and that fits my style perfectly."
Jackson's tear actually began with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance in FSU's 59-55 win over fifth-ranked Wake Forest in the Seminoles' final regular-season game. Before that contest, he averaged 10 points and 5.5 rebounds.
"That gave me a lot of confidence," Jackson said. "There are not too many players as talented as Tim Duncan, and playing well against him made me see that I can do some of the same things he's doing."
Jackson hopes his roll will continue against Connecticut, a team that starts three freshmen on the front line and two sophomores in the backcourt. UConn went 7-11 in the Big East and ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak.
Freshman Richard Hamilton, who scored a season-high 31 against Nebraska, leads the Huskies with 15.1 points. Sophomore Rashamel Jones is second with 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. Connecticut is shooting 41.6 percent from the floor, while holding opponents to 38.3 percent and 60.5 points.
FSU is without reserve guard Geoff Brower. Brower, who hit 20-of-41 in his past eight games, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Michigan State and is set to have reconstructive surgery April 4.