Maybe the end was inevitable for FSU, but did it have to be so ugly?

John Romano | The Seminoles might have been flawed, but they hardly put up a fight in a loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan's Hunter Dickinson dunks in front of of Florida State's Scottie Barnes in Sunday's East Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis.
Michigan's Hunter Dickinson dunks in front of of Florida State's Scottie Barnes in Sunday's East Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP Photo ]
Published March 29, 2021|Updated March 29, 2021

The end was about as ugly as you can imagine. Shots that wouldn’t fall, shots that shouldn’t have been taken, and shots that were never even launched because the ball had already been thrown away.

You sort of knew a helter-skelter offense would eventually be the death of the 2021 Florida State basketball team, but it was still unsettling to see all of their familiar gaffes bundled into one horrific skid mark.

When the highlight of your Sweet 16 appearance is the 4-2 lead you held for 76 seconds, you might consider ripping out those final few pages of your postseason scrapbook.

Yes, FSU went down hard Sunday evening. The fourth-seeded Seminoles were bounced from the NCAA Tournament by No. 1 seed Michigan 76-58 in an East Region semifinal, and the score should have been a lot worse.

To be fair, the outcome was not a surprise. The seeding told you Michigan was more talented, and common sense told you FSU had too many flaws. Still, you expected more. You looked at the Seminoles’ 27-8 record against Atlantic Coast Conference teams the past two seasons and thought surely they would find another gear on the backstretch.

Instead, it was obvious FSU’s shortcomings had been covered up for too long against too many weaker opponents. That includes the ACC, which, for only the second time since 2007, does not have a team in the Elite Eight.

“You feel bad now because you didn’t perform well enough against a real good basketball team,” Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. “But we have a lot to be proud of. We’ve made tremendous progress with our program and what we have to do is evaluate where we are, evaluate our shortcomings and let’s … improve on those. We can come back and be a little bit better than the Sweet 16 next year.”

That’s the sensible view, and maybe the charitable view. And, admittedly, it has to be infuriating to know that FSU’s best team in decades never got to play in the NCAA Tournament in 2020 because the pandemic slammed the door shut on the world of sports.

But Sunday’s game taught the Seminoles how far off they are from an elusive Final Four berth, and the gap is wider than they likely imagined.

It was as if Michigan was on cruise control for the game’s final 30 minutes. The lone time FSU managed to raise anyone’s pulse by cutting the score to 41-36, the Wolverines ran off seven consecutive points in less than two minutes. The rest of the game was just killing time.

The Wolverines (23-4) were more patient and disciplined moving the ball on offense, they were stronger in the paint, and they didn’t commit as many unnecessary fouls on defense.

“We try to depend on our defense, honestly, to carry us,” FSU senior guard M.J. Walker said. “You need both if you’re trying to win a national championship, if you’re going to continue to get to that next level. Honestly, we didn’t do either today. Defensively, we weren’t that great. We didn’t take care of the ball as well as we need to, and, on top of that, we weren’t shooting the ball well.”

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The good news for the Seminoles (18-7) is they have set a standard for themselves in both the state and the conference when it comes to expectations. They have been better than Florida the past five seasons and better than a lot of the name-brand schools in the ACC.

They just need to hope that potential recruits had better things to do than tune into Sunday’s game.

There was just no excuse for the hurried, poor shots the Seminoles were launching in the first half, and no one on the court or the bench did enough to slow the pace down and get the halfcourt game under control.

“It’s one of those nights where we just couldn’t seem to finish our attempts at the basket,” Hamilton said. “But you’ve got to give them credit for being big and strong and contesting shots.”

Michigan, Gonzaga and Florida State are the only three programs in the nation to have reached the Sweet 16 in three consecutive tournaments. The difference is those other two programs have advanced to the Elite Eight twice, and Michigan and made a Final Four. FSU is now 1-3 on the tournament’s second weekend since 2018.

“Sometimes I thought we might have overachieved. We have some strengths, and we have some weaknesses. I’ve been very proud of this team that they’ve hung together,” Hamilton said. “So I look back at this season, I think that team has a lot to be proud of. I think we’ve still got a lot of areas we can improve in, and hopefully you’ll see that as we continue to move the program forward.”

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