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Gritty win gives Florida State belief it can cut down nets in New Orleans

by | CBSSports.com
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For 35 minutes this was what makes March so madly wonderful. No. 14 seed St. Bonaventure was outplaying ACC tournament champion and third-seeded Florida State.

An NCAA tournament that started off as a snoozer Thursday and had been void of any real drama early Friday -- any real big-time upsets -- finally gave America an underdog to pull for.

A program is climbing out of the depths of a scandal that started in 2003 with the school president giving eligibility to a recruit, who only had a welding certificate, which cost him his job. The team forfeited six victories and decided not to play the final two games of the season. NCAA sanctions followed and it ended tragically with Bill Swan, the chairman of the board of trustees, committing suicide because of the scandal.

The New York Times reported Swan's suicide note read, in part, "I am so sorry for the pain I have caused St. Bonaventure University."

That pain was nine long years ago. Now on Friday afternoon inside Bridgestone Arena, the Bonnies, invigorated from the school's first Atlantic 10 tournament title, were manhandling the Seminoles.

"They beat us for about 35 minutes there," Florida State senior guard Luke Loucks said.

In the final minutes, though, normalcy returned. FSU went on a 12-0 run, turning a four-point deficit into an eight-point cushion with 2:46 remaining and the Seminoles held on down the stretch for the 66-63 victory.

St. Bonaventure failed to deliver the tournament's biggest upset -- although a couple hours later Norfolk State took those honors by shocking No. 2 seed Missouri -- but it certainly proved it has buried its past.

"We came here to win the game," St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said.

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They certainly gained the Seminoles' respect in the process.

"A 3 vs. 14 game doesn't make sense when you look at the score," Loucks said. "That St. Bonaventure team we just beat is an incredible team. They fought, they're tough. They play tough defense. It was a tough win for us. That's honestly the NCAA tournament for you.

"Everyone comes to play. No one wants to go home and watch the tournament on TV."

What viewers at home and the St. Bonaventure crowd witnessed was a bizarre end to a tremendous game.

With 22 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, St. Bonaventure had the basketball, trailing by three. The Bonnies attempted two shots in the final five seconds -- both two-pointers -- as the St. Bonaventure crowd screamed "no" wondering why they weren't trying to tie the game with a 3-pointer.

"We were trying to [get a good shot], it was tough to get the ball inbounds," Schmidt said. "It was the in corner. They were switching everything, so we tried to pull the ball out and trying to get a shot to tie the game up.

"I wish I had five more timeouts. You always want to have a timeout if you can, but we didn't."

Both shots in the final five seconds missed as did the Bonnies' upset bid.

"We were very fortunate to get the win," Loucks said. "Last week was very emotional for our team. We did something we've never done before and won [the ACC] championship.

"It really exhausted us. We used every ounce of energy. They weren't going to back down because we were ranked higher."

Florida State's Bernard James, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, said the Seminoles came out flat. It showed. St. Bonaventure led from the outset and never trailed until 5:18 remained in the second half.

"We have to come out with more energy," James said. "It took us until the second half to get things going."

Florida State senior guard Michael Snaer said the Seminoles are going places. He said not only are the Seminoles a Final Four team, but could win the NCAA title

"I don't know about [just] a Final Four, but in my mind this is a championship team," Snaer said. "I don't care about the Final Four. People think 'Let's get to the Final Four.' I want to win that championship game. I just don't want to get there, I want to win it.

"I don't want to settle for getting to the Final Four. I want to win it and I think we can."

To do so, Florida State will need more production from Snaer. The Seminoles' leading scorer with a 14.1 point average, Snaer was held scoreless, missing all seven shots from the field.

"We have a lot of numbers," Snaer said. "All these guys can play. We can hit you with so many weapons. We have so many guys. We have so much talent on this team."

In the NCAA tournament, as the Seminoles discovered, it takes more than talent.

"You know, we're battle tested," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We've started the season off with moving parts all over the place, guys moving to different positions and have to adjust to different roles on the team, having people get hurt.

"There was a time when we were still trying to put it together. But as the season moved on, everybody accepted their role. They became closer together.

"There have been times when maybe we have not been quite as sharp and I think that might have been the case tonight a little bit. This was a different challenge for us defensively."

The Seminoles didn't really have any answers for St. Bonaventure's 6-foot-9 forward Andrew Nicholson, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. Nicholson finally ran out of gas down the stretch, missing 10 consecutive shots at one point.

Florida State, though, had just enough to hold on.

"That was emotionally draining," Loucks said. "We're at the finish line so you can't give up."

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