CBSSports.com National Columnist

'Noles turn heads, turn away Irish with surging offense

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CHICAGO -- Playing Florida State is never an enjoyable experience. Passes are stolen by the FSU defense. Some shots are harassed, others are blocked outright. Even when the Florida State offense is lousy, as it is most games, playing FSU isn't fun.

Playing Florida State when the Seminoles shoot like they shot Sunday night?

It isn't fair.

Second-seeded Notre Dame found that out, getting overwhelmed in a 71-57 loss that ended the Irish's most promising season in decades. Tenth-seeded Florida State advanced to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio, where it will face VCU on Friday.

The Seminoles entered the game leading the country in field-goal defense, holding teams to 36.2 percent shooting, and they were even better Sunday. Or Notre Dame was worse. Same thing, really. The Irish shot just 30.6 percent from the floor overall, and 23.6 percent on 3-pointers. Florida State blocked nine shots and scared at least that many more.

In other words, Florida State's defense did what it does. No surprise there. But that Florida State offense? Big surprise there. Florida State had more assists (15) than turnovers (12), a rarity for a team that had 513 turnovers and 401 assists this season, but more shocking was the Seminoles' accuracy from the perimeter. They were 9-for-19 on 3-pointers (47.4 percent), well above their 32-percent shooting this season.

"I thought, if we had to give up anything, we'd give up jump shots," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "But they made them, and we were digging out of a hole."

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Again.

It was Notre Dame's second consecutive poor performance against a double-digit seed. The Irish got away with it Friday against 15th-seeded Akron, which hindered Notre Dame's normally smooth offense but couldn't do anything on offense. Notre Dame won 69-56 but spent the postgame interview session picking apart its own performance. Excuses mentioned were nerves, excitement and rust, as if the problem with Notre Dame on Friday was Notre Dame, not Akron. Which was probably true.

But none of those excuses was valid -- or even used -- on Sunday. Because what was wrong with Notre Dame in the third round wasn't Notre Dame. It was Florida State. The Seminoles did what they always do, and almost exactly what they did in the second round Friday when they blocked 10 Texas A&M shots and held the Aggies to 31.4-percent shooting.

Sunday was more of the same. The Irish scored exactly zero points in transition, which means they had to earn everything they got. Which wasn't much. FSU center Bernard James had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, 24 hours after he'd spent Saturday night vomiting from the flu. He was given three IV's on Sunday, then helped hold Notre Dame's Carleton Scott to 1-for-10 shooting.

Derwin Kitchen, the Seminoles' long-armed, 6-foot-4 point guard, shut down Irish leader Ben Hansbrough. The Big East Player of the Year had 18 points, but it was an ineffective 18 points. Hansbrough was 5-for-13 from the floor and handed out just two assists because he couldn't beat the quicker, longer Kitchen off the dribble.

Hansbrough fouled out with 3:18 left, but before he went to the bench he hugged his teammates. The margin was just 15 points, but Hansbrough knew what everyone watching the game knew: Notre Dame wasn't coming back.

Indeed, Notre Dame drew within 68-56 with 1:23 to play, and soon thereafter both teams emptied their benches. Teams have rallied from similar deficits in a lot less than 1:23, but it wasn't going to happen on this day.

Not with the aforementioned James, who averages 8.5 points, scoring 14 on 6-for-8 shooting. Not with shooting guard Michael Snaer, who shoots 39.4 percent from the floor, making five of seven shots, including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers. Not with third guard Deividas Dulkys, who was in a 1-for-16 slump on 3-pointers, drilling two in the first half when the Seminoles pulled away. Not with forward Okaro White, who came into Sunday with as many games with two points or less (eight) as he had in double figures, scoring 10.

"We made a few shots early and it spread through the team," Kitchen said. "If we can stay consistent on the offensive end, I like our chances. That's something we've been struggling with. Even though we played great on defense, we struggled so bad on offense."

Not Sunday. Almost every Florida State player exceeded his normal offensive production, efficiency or both. And everyone in an FSU uniform played his typical nasty defense. That's the thing about defense -- it never goes in a slump. It's offense that comes and goes, and most of the time Florida State's offense is gone.

But it showed up Sunday night.

Which is why you won't be seeing Notre Dame again this season.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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