ORLANDO | Florida State was prone to scoring droughts and turnovers, struggled at the foul line and couldn’t buy a 3-point shot.
But in the end, the Seminoles were just a hair too quick, too deep and too much for Dunk City.
Dwayne Bacon scored 25 points and FSU’s big men blocked nine shots to lead the third-seeded ‘Noles to an 86-80 victory over 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday in an opening-round NCAA tournament West regional game at the Amway Center.
FSU (26-8), in the NCAAs for the first time since 2012, will play 11th-seeded Xavier (22-13) on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. The Musketeers pulled off the only upset of the four games on the first day by beating No. 6 Maryland 76-65.
“We had tremendous energy but didn’t execute,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton. “We were a bit more efficient as a team … we’re not there yet. We have a lot of young guys and we’re making better decisions as far as finding the sweet spots to score.”
Gulf Coast (26-8), the Atlantic Sun champions, failed again to duplicate their 2013 NCAA tournament run in which they advanced to the Sweet 16, despite being one of the sexy upset picks of the first round games.
The Eagles were ousted that year by Florida and since then has failed to win an NCAA first-round game in two trips.
The other game on Saturday will be an East regional contest between Florida (25-8) and Virginia (23-10) at 8:40 p.m. The fourth-seeded Gators dispatched No. 13 East Tennessee State 80-65 and No. 5 Virginia downed No. 12 UNC-Wilmington 76-71.
If the Seminoles and Gators win on Saturday, they will advance to regional semifinals on both coasts, FSU to San Jose, Calif., and UF to New York.
“The sky is the limit for them as far as making a deep run [in the tournament],” said Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley of the Seminoles.
FSU won despite 16 turnovers, 2 of 13 on 3-point attempts and a .615 percentage from the foul line (24 of 39), the latter figure the lowest in eight games.
But the Seminoles out-rebounded Florida Gulf Coast 46-26, outscored the Eagles 44-36 in the paint and never trailed after erasing a 31-28 deficit with 3:18 left in the first half.
FSU led by as many as 12 points with 3:45 left, and the Eagles were able to cut the lead to five points, 82-77 with 33 seconds left, and 85-80 with seven remaining. That was as close as it got.
And FGCU’s Dunk City rep? Florida State had nine for the game, while the Eagles had only two, trying futilely to get inside against the taller, longer ‘Noles.
Bacon added nine rebounds. freshman Jonathan Isaac had 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots, Terence Mann had 11 points and five rebounds and Xavier Rathan-Mayes had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Christian Koumadje, a 7-4 center, had four blocked shots.
Brandon Goodwin led Gulf Coast with 28 points, Zach Johnson had 17 and Christian Terrell of Jacksonville added nine points and three assists.
“I thought we fought pretty hard,” Goodwin said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates.”
Bacon scored 16 first-half points but the Seminoles couldn’t shake the pesky Eagles and led 40-36 at the break. Nine FSU players scored and 12 attempted field goals.
The Seminoles built a 28-19 lead on Michael Ojo’s dunk with 7:50 left but FCGU came storming back with a 12-0 run that results in a 31-28 edge. Zach Johnson scored five of the points, including a 3-pointer.
However, Bacon scored six points in the final 1:19 to put Florida State back on top, capped by a floating layup with 18 seconds remaining.
“It’s obvious he’s been our go-to guy all year,” Hamilton said of Bacon.