The Florida State Seminoles consistently defended the rim against the smaller Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to the tune of nine blocks, and the Seminoles held on late for an 86-80 win on Thursday evening in Orlando to stay alive in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
The ‘Noles have been a streaky outside shooting team all year, and they’re only average from the free-throw line. The fear in a win-or-go-home tournament is that they’ll fail to knock down jumpers on a night when they also fail to make the opponent pay by hitting free throws.
Both those things happened tonight, but FSU was so dominant on the interior it didn’t matter. The ’Noles shot 15% on 3s, and 62% on FTs. But their 68% from inside the arc was the difference.
A dreadfully long game ground down to the finish with an endless series of fouls, bizarre calls, and quick FGCU possessions. In the end, however, Florida State did enough to advance, walking away with an 86-80 win.
In the first half, FSU started hot, but the Eagles did enough to stay in touch. There were several times when it looked like the Seminoles were going to blow the game open, but it never happened. Florida State led 28-19 at the under-8, but FGCU used a 12-0 run to take the lead.
Their lead was short-lived, though, as Dwayne Bacon took over down the stretch to give FSU a 40-36 lead at the break.
In the second half, Florida State quickly pushed the lead to seven, before FGCU cut it back to four. With FSU in a zone, the second half was played almost entirely in that odd range where the leading team can’t put it away, while the trailing team can’t catch up. FSU never led by less than four or more than 12.
With two minutes left, and the ’Noles up nine, the Eagles began fouling. FSU made enough FTs to get the win.
Dwayne Bacon led the Seminoles with 25 points and added nine boards. Jonathan Isaac had 17 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Terance Mann had 11 points, while Xavier Rathan-Mayes had 10 points to go along with five assists.
Florida State (26-8) now advances to face 11th-seeded Xavier on Saturday night.