ORLANDO – Terance Mann couldn’t see it, but he could hear it.
With a little more than a minute to go in the first half of Florida State’s game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament, FSU sophomore Dwayne Bacon went to the basket and threw down a one-handed jam that rivals any of the highlights he’s produced during his two seasons in Tallahassee.
That dunk, one of nine for FSU, stemmed the tide of an earlier FGCU run and helped propel the No. 3-seed Seminoles to an 86-80 victory over the 14th-seeded Eagles here at the Amway Center.
It also brought out the loudest roar from a lively crowd of 15,869 fans, most of which was evenly divided between FSU and FGCU supporters.
“I didn’t get to see it because everyone stood up,” Mann said with a laugh. “And I was looking over and I heard everybody go crazy. I saw where he took off from, and it was a big-time dunk.”
Dunk City, meet Dunk State.
FGCU earned its “Dunk City” nickname thanks to a high-flying style that sparked a surprise run to the Sweet 16 in 2013.
But in a matchup between two of three most dunk-heavy teams in the country, FSU out-dunked – as well as out-shot, out-rebounded, out-blocked and otherwise out-played – Florida Gulf Coast on the way to its first NCAA tournament win since 2012.
The Seminoles will meet No. 11-seed Xavier, which upset seventh-seeded Maryland earlier in the day, at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday.
“They’re ‘Dunk City,’ but I think our team leads the nation in dunks,” FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac said. “That’s what we do. We’re long and athletic, and we dunk the ball, too.”
Bacon’s dunk accounted for two of his 25 points, which led the team and marked his second-highest total of the year. Isaac added 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
“(Bacon) has been our go-to guy all year,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “… He made good decisions with the ball, and we’re going to need more of that from him as we move through the remainder of the tournament.”
FSU took advantage of the game’s frantic pace, capitalizing on its edges in speed, height, athleticism and depth to build a lead as big as 12 points near the end of the second half.
The Seminoles scored 12 fast-break to FGCU’s four, and also out-scored the Eagles in the paint, 44-36.
FGCU came into the game averaging more than 40 points per game in the paint, but struggled to find clean looks against an FSU defense that blocked nine shots.
As a result, The Eagles attempted 28 3-pointers. They came into the game averaging 18.
“Because they’re so big, it’s hard to finish at the rim,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. “We’ve been very good at points in the paint, but attacking the paint against those guys (is difficult).”
The game, however, did feature a few tense moments.
The Seminoles led by nine with 47 seconds to play, but saw their lead whittled away thanks to a handful of missed free throws.
FSU connected on just 61.5 percent of its free-throw attempts, and was 5 of 8 at the line in the game’s final minute.
The Eagles twice cut their deficit to five during that stretch but could get no closer.
“Obviously, when we hit our free throws we don’t have an issue,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We didn’t shoot free throws very well down the stretch. And if you don’t knock those free throws down, you can put yourself in a position where this stuff can happen.
“It makes everything look bad.”
Well, maybe not everything.
For long stretches on Thursday, Florida State looked every bit like the team that won 25 games and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Despite a cold night from 3-point range, the Seminoles still finished 30 of 54 (55.6 percent) from the field and enjoyed a 46-26 rebounding advantage.
With their usual offense being funneled outside, the Eagles launched 70 shot attempts and made just 29.
“We had a little run there where we had about five or six stops in a row,” Hamilton said. “And we were able to get some separation.”
Next up for FSU is its first matchup with the Xavier Musketeers since 1958.
With Thursday’s game stretching until near midnight and postgame interviews creeping toward 1 a.m., the Seminoles will have about 36 hours to rest, regroup and prepare for an unfamiliar opponent.
Not that anyone in the Florida State locker room was complaining.
“That’s exactly what ‘March Madness’ is about, man,” Isaac said. “FGCU just gave us their best punch. We were able to withstand it, and we’ve got to go right back to the drawing board and take Xavier’s best punch.”