ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida State made the most of its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, beat a Sunshine State opponent.
The third-seeded Seminoles held off No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast 86-80 in a West Region game Thursday night despite some sloppy play that allowed a late double-digit lead to disappear. The Seminoles made some clutch free throws and came up with just enough stops in the waning moments to spoil the Eagles’ upset bid.
“There is some satisfaction because we won,” said Dwayne Bacon, who led the Seminoles with 25 points. “All that other stuff, how the game looked, that doesn’t matter when you win.”
The victory sets up a second round matchup between the Seminoles and No. 11 seed Xavier on Saturday. FSU knows it must play better if it doesn’t want to be the next upset for the Musketeers, who stunned No. 6 Maryland earlier Thursday night.
The Seminoles missed some free throws down the stretch Thursday that helped create some drama at the end.
“When we hit our free throws, we don’t have an issue,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, whose team improved to 26-8. “We didn’t shoot free throws very well down the stretch, and if you don’t knock those free throws down, you put yourself in position where this stuff can happen. It makes everything look bad.”
It marred a narrative in which the Seminoles dominated a game with two athletic teams that get up and down the floor and finish well around the rim. The Seminoles beat the team known as “Dunk City” at its own game most of the night.
The crowd was mostly behind the Seminoles with many fans making the trip from the north part of the state.
Both teams like to dominate the paint, but the Eagles found that hard to do with 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-4 Christ Koumadje taking turns protecting the rim. That forced FGCU to rely heavily on its perimeter shooting, which wasn’t the Eagles strength Thursday night.
The Seminoles had nine blocked shots on the night while holding the Eagles to 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 41 percent from the field. FSU shot nearly 56 percent from the field while shooting primarily high-percentage shots.
Brandon Goodwin led the Eagles with 28 points and Zach Johnson added 17.
“It’s hard to simulate what (the Seminoles) do,” said FGCU coach Joe Dooley, whose team ends its season at 26-8. “You can’t simulate height and length and athleticism like they have.”
In addition Bacon, FSU got big production from Jonathan Isaac (17 points and 10 rebounds) along with Terance Mann (11 points) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10).
FSU now has three consecutive opening game wins in the NCAA Tournament and its ninth first-round win in 15 NCAA appearances.
Florida Gulf Coast was in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years. FGCU made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013.