Top-seeded Florida State edges Florida Gulf Coast in NIT win
Florida State’s Aaron Thomas was four points shy of matching his career-high in the National Invitation Tournament opener Tuesday, but that didn’t stop him from asking to sit with 1:46 remaining in a close game. The sophomore had played every minute and carried the Seminoles in the second half.
Coach Leonard Hamilton declined the request.
A short-handed Florida State squad needed every ounce of energy it could get from Thomas to advance to the second round with a 58-53 victory. The top-seeded Seminoles (20-13) will host No. 4 seed Georgetown (18-14) on Monday.
"I just couldn’t afford to not have a potential scorer on the floor while I was trying to rotate other guys," Hamilton said. "He was exhausted, but that shows a little bit about his toughness.
"Aaron, he put his big-boy pants on tonight."
Thomas scored 22 to help eliminate the Eagles (22-13), last year’s NCAA tournament darlings better known as Dunk City. He carried the Seminoles in the second half, scoring 14 consecutive points during one stretch after Florida State gave up a five-point halftime lead.
Tuesday was the first time during his collegiate career that he played all 40 minutes. Florida State was without second-leading scorer Ian Miller because of a foot injury, so that was 13.7 points missing from the lineup.
"I didn’t have a mindset of going out and trying to take over," Thomas said. "Thought I had to come in and be more aggressive and play harder.
"I had no idea I scored that many in a row. My teammates did a good job of finding me."
Bernard Thompson led the Eagles with 16 points and Jamail Jones chipped in 11. Florida Gulf Coast won two NCAA tournament games as a 15 seed last season, but couldn’t put together an encore run.
"Everybody said, `Well, they’re not as good,’" Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said. "We got there because they got tougher. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit for sticking with it and not quitting and not doubting. We did get better as the season went on."
Neither team could find an offensive groove for most of the night. The teams combined for 35 turnovers and the Seminoles led 24-19 at halftime. The 19 points were the second-lowest scoring half of the season for Florida Gulf Coast (22-13).
The Seminoles (20-13) used a late 8-2 run, including six from Okaro White, to grab and hold onto the lead. White scored 17 for Florida State and Montay Brandon finished with eight.
The Seminoles fell short of the NCAA tournament, in part, because of an underwhelming offense, and that was the case again against Florida Gulf Coast. Florida State had 11 more turnovers (16) than assists (five). The Eagles had 10 more turnovers (19) than assists (9).
"Our guys, even though we were disappointed, you look up and it was one or two games," Hamilton said. "We were one game short of making the field. That can either fire you up and motivate you or it could deflate your enthusiasm.
"I think what it did to us was make us a little more determined."
Both teams got up and down the court with a faced-paced tempo, but that didn’t equate to scoring. The Eagles shot 31.8 percent from the field, 30 percent from behind the arc and 50 percent from the free throw line in the first half. The Seminoles shot 44.4 percent from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers and 50 percent from the line, but only took 18 shots from the field. The 24 points tied for the fifth fewest points scored in a half by Florida State this season.
Neither team shot 41 percent in the second half.
Florida Gulf Coast opened the second half on a 6-0 run that extended to a 15-4 stretch and a 34-28 lead. That’s when Thomas took over with his 14 straight points. White scored seven of the last 10 Florida State points to ice the game.
"I thought I was struggling for most of the second half," White said. "They were bringing the double team and I was trying to go too quick and not recognizing the double team. … That really got me out of sync.
"Toward the end, the game was close and I tried to find other ways to score."