Monday, March 21, 2011
Chicago The scene was familiar to any Florida State fan: Seminoles players doing the tomahawk chop in front of a rowdy crowd.
It's not just for football games anymore.
Bernard James scored 14 points, Michael Snaer added 13 and Florida State showed there's more to its game than defense with a 71-57 upset of second-seeded Notre Dame on Sunday night that sent the Seminoles into the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.
It was an impressive — and unexpected — offensive effort by the 10th-seeded Seminoles, who put the Irish in a big hole with seven 3-pointers in the first half and led by as much as 23. Four players finished in double figures, and James went 6 of 8 with 10 rebounds despite needing three IVs on Sunday and feeling as if he was going to get sick the whole night.
"If we can stay consistent on the offensive end, I like our chances," said Derwin Kitchen, who had 10 points and six rebounds. "We've just been so up and down and inconsistent on the offensive end, it allowed us to stumble at times and lose a few games. If we can stay consistent and execute on the offensive end, I like our chances because we play so well on the defensive end."
Florida State (23-10) now faces upstart Virginia Commonwealth in the Southwest regional semifinals Friday in San Antonio. The 11th-seeded Rams, maligned as not worthy of being in the 68-team field, stunned third-seeded Purdue earlier Sunday for their third win in five nights.
According to STATS LLC, it will be the first 10 vs. 11 matchup in NCAA tournament history.
"Hopefully, this is just the beginning of something special," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "The good thing about this team is I still think our best basketball is ahead of us."
For Notre Dame, meanwhile, it was another disappointing showing in the NCAAs. The Fighting Irish (27-7) had their highest seed since also receiving a No. 2 in 1981 under Digger Phelps, yet ended up the same way they have for much of the last two decades — headed home after the first weekend.
Notre Dame has made the regional semifinals just once in the last 24 years, back in 2003.
The Irish didn't look anything like the team that had won 13 of its previous 15 games, held to 31 percent shooting — including 7 of 30 from 3-point range. Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough was stifled most of the night by the Seminoles' defense, scoring 18 on 5-of-13 shooting before fouling out with 3:19 left. Florida State fans taunted him with chants of "Overrated!" as he left the floor.
Hansbrough hugged everyone on the bench before taking a seat to watch the closing minutes of his final college game.
"It's really tough, especially how hard we've worked throughout the year," he said.
Dominated from the opening tip, Notre Dame did make things interesting midway through the second half. Trailing 52-29, the Irish went on an 11-0 run capped by Hansbrough's 3 and two free throws by Tim Abromaitis after a technical on Snaer. Hansbrough then scored on a driving layup to make it 54-42 with 6:57 left.
But the Seminoles finally broke the press that had been giving them trouble during the spurt, and James slammed home a thunderous dunk that drew a roar from Florida State fans and ended any hopes the Irish had of a comeback.
"We competed and made it interesting there," coach Mike Brey said. "But that's a big hole to come out of."
The Notre Dame loss capped a dismal weekend for the Big East. Trumpeted as the top conference in the country, the league sent a record 11 teams to the tournament but only two — UConn and Marquette — are left. Both advanced to the round of 16 at the expense of their Big East brethren.
The ACC is faring far better. Florida State gives the conference three teams in the round of 16, most of any league.
Florida State has a much richer history in football — some might remember that little game with Notre Dame back in '93, better known as No. 1 vs. No. 2 — and doesn't have nearly the pedigree of fellow ACC members Duke and North Carolina. Its victory over Texas A&M on Friday was its first in the NCAA tournament since 1998, and this will be only its fifth trip to the regional semifinals.
But a stingy defense is a great equalizer, and the Seminoles came in with the nation's best, holding opponents to just 31 percent shooting.
The Seminoles are nasty, so aggressive they look as though they have seven players on the floor. They constantly switched and pressed, getting a hand — more like two or three — in the face of every Notre Dame shooter. The Irish missed 11 of their first 15 shots, and it never got much better.
"A team like that, they're used to scoring," Snaer said. "If it gets in their head that it's not going to be easy, they're going to get down on themselves and dig a hole because they're not used to that. They're used to the ball going through the hoop. They're used to getting the easy shot. But we're not giving that up. Every shot is going to be contested."
James said Saturday that the Seminoles take their defense so seriously, there are days in practice where it seems as if nobody scores. They had no such troubles against the Irish, making eight of their first 13 shots as they raced out to a 23-11 lead.
Not known for their long-range shooting — they'd made only 196 3-pointers coming into Sunday night's game — they were particularly effective from beyond the arc, making seven of their nine in the first half.
"When our guys were getting spot-up 3s, they're pretty good at knocking 'em down," James said. "Once they got on a roll, they just kept going."
After Eric Atkins' layup cut the lead to three, Kitchen, Ian Miller and Luke Loucks all made 3-pointers as the Seminoles stretched their lead to 23-11 with 8:40 left in the half. Snaer and Deividas Dulkys added two more — Snaer's set up by a long pass from Chris Singleton — to make it 31-19, setting off rowdy cheers from the Florida State fans.
They opened the second half with an 11-3 run, showcasing a wide array of shots. Dulkys made a jumper, Snaer had a layup and James scored on a floater over Tyrone Nash so pretty it would make NBA players jealous. White, scoreless in the first half, converted a three-point play and scored on a tip-in to give the Seminoles a 45-26 lead with 15:33 to play.
"I am a little surprised how it played out," James said. "The lead we got, I thought we were going to win by five, 10. I didn't imagine that we would be up by 20 at one point. That's a great feeling. It shows what our team can do when we're playing together and playing our game."