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FSU gets big shot at NIT title

The one thing Kerry Thompson wanted to be in front of the home crowd was a big shot.

He did better than that. He made the big shot.

Everything after that in Tuesday night's NIT semifinal against Connecticut might as well have been preordained. When the Florida State junior from New York City converted a three-pointer from the top of the key with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, the air seemed to seep out of the Huskies.

The overtime, except for the first shot, belonged to the Seminoles, who pulled away to a 71-65 victory.

In Thursday's final they meet Michigan, a 77-62 winner over Arkansas in the other semifinal.

Thompson finished with 20 points, second to James Collins' 29, which tied a career high.

"I'm on a real high," Thompson said. "I was so excited before the game my family, my friends I didn't sleep."

"He kept me up all night and all day today," Collins added. "I've never seen him like this."

The triumph by the Seminoles (20-11) avenged a 79-61 win by the Huskies in Tallahassee 15 months ago.

"We were able to show what kind of ballclub we really are," said Collins, whose 8 of 12 shooting from three-point range kept the Seminoles in contention until Thompson hit his game-saver. "Unfortunately, we had to show it so late in the year. If we'd showed it early, maybe we could have been able to do this in the NCAA Tournament."

With Connecticut up 59-56 and going for the killer, Rashamel Jones, who hit a three-pointer with a minute to go, put up an airball and FSU roared downcourt. FSU didn't call a timeout. It was, coach Pat Kennedy reasoned, the only thing that might have killed the Seminoles.

"You do that with an inexperienced team," he said. "We don't. Kerry had the ball. He's done it for us before. I wanted Kerry to take it."

And Kerry wanted Collins to take it.

"That's who I was looking for," Thompson said. "The clock was running down. They were all over James. I was definitely going to him, but the way they were playing him, well, I'd rather shoot it than put it in somebody else's hands besides James."

The Huskies had a last chance to win in regulation. Ricky Moore took the inbounds pass and raced downcourt. With barely a second left, he looked for Connecticut's hot hand, Richard Hamilton. Collins stole the pass.

It was the last play by a defense that finally found its rhythm.

"When we got behind," Kennedy said, "we started half-court trapping. Then we went to a 2-3 zone. We were absolutely exhausted, and we went to the zone for a few possessions just to slow the tempo and get our energy back."

Once the game went into overtime, the Seminole defense went into overdrive. It allowed Hamilton, who seemed to be trying to match Collins bomb for bomb in the second half, to put the Huskies ahead 61-59. It was the last time they would lead.

More NIT

MICHIGAN 77, ARKANSAS 62: Michigan had trouble putting away the undersized Razorbacks (18-13), who trailed 63-58 with 3:57 left. But the Wolverines (23-11) closed with a 12-4 run.

Maurice Taylor scored 19 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds for Michigan, which has won six straight after a five-game losing streak that cost it a spot in the NCAA field.

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