Gillespie, Florida State hold off 12th seed Bucknell 70-67

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              Florida State forward Valencia Meyers, right, grabs the basketball away from Bucknell forward Kaitlyn Slagus, left, during a first-round women's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — With her team trailing by four early in the fourth quarter, Florida State’s Valencia Myers reminded her teammates in the huddle of where they’d come from.

“I told everyone we’re the same team that was down 10 points to Virginia Tech with four minutes left,” and came back to win, Myers said. “So if we can do that, we can definitely come back from down four with a whole quarter left.”

The Seminoles (24-8) did just that, battling back just as they have done several times this season.

Kiah Gillespie had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead a balanced scoring attack and fifth-seeded Florida State held on to beat No. 12 Bucknell 70-67 in the opening round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday. Nicki Ekhomu, Nausia Woolfork and Valencia Myers each had 15 points for the Seminoles (24-8), who won their 16th straight first round NCAA Tournament game.

The Seminoles will play fourth-seeded South Carolina on Sunday at UNC Charlotte’s Halton Arena.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau never had a doubt her team would keep battling, even though they are one of the youngest teams in the tournament, start two freshmen and don’t have a senior on the roster.

“It helps a lot having been in those situations against tough teams and on big stages,” Semrau said. “Their confidence never waned.”

Gillespie played big in the paint, helping Florida State outrebound Bucknell 44-23. She also hit a big 3-pointer in the closing minutes to put the Seminoles up by five.

It was Gillespie’s 12th double-double of the season.

Kate Walker led senior-laden Bucknell (28-6) with 18 points, matching a school tournament record, while Kaitlyn Slagus had 13 and Ellie Mack had 12.

Bucknell trailed 54-50 before opening the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run led by Slagus, who hit a 3-pointer and made two free throws.

But Florida State battled back to take the lead for good at 63-60 with 3:55 left when Ekhomu drove the right side of the lane, scored and drew a foul for a 3-point play. Gillespie followed with a big 3-pointer from the top of the key on the next possession to make it two possession game.

Bucknell kept battling, cutting the lead to two with 17 seconds left when Abby Kapp scored on a layup of a side inbounds play. And when Ekhomu missed the front end of a one-and-one with 14.6 seconds left, Bucknell a chance to tie and send the game into overtime. But Slagus and Kyi English both missed 3-pointers on a frantic final possession.

“In the end we just weren’t able to get rebounds,” Mack said of the loss. “But we were really resilient.”

Afterward, Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell sent a message to his seniors.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” Roussell said.

HUNTED, NOT THE HUNTER

Roussell said it was a “relief” that his team entered the game as an underdog after dominating the Patriot League and being expected to win all year.

He said that helped his team play relaxed.

“We were the hunted all year long and today we were the hunters,” Roussell said.

TOUGH START

Semrau credited Bucknell with having a great game plan coming in, but also felt like her team was “rusty” after a two-week layoff following the ACC Tournament which contributed to the Seminoles falling behind by nine early in the first quarter.

“We weren’t able to get stops,” Semrau said. “So for them to bear down and win a gritty game, I’m proud of our team.”

BIG PICTURE:

Bucknell: The Patriot League champions won a school-record 28 games this season, so they have plenty to be proud of. But this would have been their first NCAA Tournament win ever so this one will be tough to swallow. Slagus, Walker and English are seniors, so the Bison have some pieces to replace next season.

Florida State: One of the youngest teams in the NCAA field, the Seminoles inexperience showed early in the game. But they made big plays down the stretch and controlled the glass.