ORLANDO | A lot went wrong for the Florida State Seminoles on Thursday in their first-round NCAA West regional game against Florida Gulf Coast.
More went right, and that’s why the third-seeded ‘Noles (26-8) outlasted the 14th-seeded Eagles 86-80 in their first NCAA tournament game in five years, advancing to Saturday’s second round against No. 11 Xavier (22-13) at 6:10 p.m. at the Amway Center.
Coach Leonard Hamilton simply shrugs his shoulders and says it’s “who we are.”
FSU had more turnovers (16-11), made only 61 percent of its free throws (24 of 39) and shot 15 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (2 of 13).
But the Seminoles pounded the smaller Eagles inside, out-rebounding them 46-26, swatting away nine shots and altering the course of numerous others and shot a blistering 68 percent on 2-point attempts as Dwayne Bacon (25 points) and Jonathan Isaac (17 points) flew past FGCU players in attacking the rim.
FSU had nine dunks to extend its national lead to 180 (Kentucky is second with 164 entering Friday’s NCAA game against Northern Kentucky) and wore down FCGU with its depth, as 10 players scored.
Hamilton said he wouldn’t mind more efficiency. But his overall strategy of rotation that goes a dozen-deep, encouraging a rapid pace of play and dazzling opponents with athleticism comes at a cost.
“We’re not a great free-throw shooting team … sometimes we have a tendency to not take care of the ball … we would love to be a real smooth, solid pin-point execution team but that’s not how we’re built,” he said on Friday during a news conference at the Amyway Center. “We’re aggressive. We like to push the ball down the court. We like to attack the basket. We have a few holes in our game.”
Hamilton also said FSU overcomes its flaws by it’s team-first attitude.
“This team’s well-connected,” he said. “They like each other. We have great camaraderie and togetherness and esprit de corps. When we pull together, we find ways [to win].”
Isaac, the 6-foot-10 freshman who also had 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals against FCGU, said every team has gaps and every team has different ways of covering up those gaps.
“There’s a ‘but’ to every team,” he said. “We’re athletic but sometimes we don’t execute and sometimes we make mistakes, but just like any other team out there.”
However, the stakes rise at every step of the tournament and despite the fact that Xavier was an 11th seed, they defeated a Maryland team that tied for second in the Big Ten.
Hamilton said his team is fully prepared for another 40-minute dog fight.
“They do a great job of executing … they get what they want every time down the court,” Hamilton said of the Musketeers, who finished seventh in the Big East but is playing in the NCAA tournament for the fourth year in a row and for the 11th time in the past 12 years. “They’re just a very solid team and that’s evident in the fact that they [beat] a very good Maryland team. That speaks for itself.”
Xavier is led by junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who is long and lanky at 6-6 and is third in the Big East in scoring (18.2 points per game) and eighth in rebounding (5.7).
After shooting 1 of 8 in the first half against Maryland, Bluiett made 6 of 7 shots in the second half, and four of five on 3-point attempts. He also had four steals.
“The way he played in the second half was special,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “His confidence is at an all-time high.”
Yet, the Musketeers have faced few teams as talented as FSU, and Bluiett knows it.
“They’ve got a lot of size, play well together and like to run up and down the court,” he said. “Quick-pace type of game and they’re very physical as well.”
But the issue, as usual with the ‘Noles, is whether that will overcome the turnovers and missed shots that may occur. It’s a familiar refrain: FSU is athletic enough to beat anyone, and erratic enough to lose to anyone.
That was evidenced by a regular season in which the ‘Noles went 5-1 against six consecutive ranked opponents (Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, NCAA teams all, were the victims) but lost to four unranked teams.
“I think what this team has done is figure out ways to win,” Hamilton said. “We’re not going to change very much from who we are.”
FLORIDA STATE VS. XAVIER
When: Saturday, 6:10 p.m.
Where: Amway Center, Orlando.
TV/Radio: TNT/WBOB 600-AM, 100.3-FB.
1 Jonathan Isaac, F, 6-10
12.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg
50 Michael Ojo, C, 7-1
4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg
4 Dwayne Bacon, G, 6-7
17.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg
14 Terance Mann, G, 6-6
8.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg
22 Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G, 6-4
10.4 ppg, 4.9 apg
0 Tyrique Jones, F, 6-9
4.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg
55 J.P. Macura, G, 6-5
14.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
11 Malcom Bernard, G, 6-6
6.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg
5 Trevon Bluiett, G, 6-6
18.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
3 Quentin Goodin, G, 6-4
5.1 ppg, 3.4 apg
The skinny: The two teams have played only once before, nearly six decades ago. Xavier won 76-60 at home against the Seminoles on Feb. 5, 1958. … Xavier is led by Blueitt, who has 17 games of 20 points or more this season, and had 21 in a first-round victory over Maryland, 18 in the second half. … FSU score 80 or more points for the first time in six games by beating Florida Gulf Coast 86-80. … The ‘Noles can tie the school record for victories in one season by beating the Musketeers.