STOCKTON, Calif. (Seminoles.com) – For the second time in three years Florida State is headed back to the Elite Eight.
The No. 3 seed Seminoles mounted a furious rally, led by their stingy defense to defeat No. 2 seed Oregon State 66-53 on Saturday in the Sweet Sixteen.
FSU trailed by as many as 17 early in the game as the Beavers got out to a quick start, leading 21-4 by the middle of the first quarter. The size and length of the Beavers seemed to give the Noles fits, but FSU made its adjustments and began attacking the Beavers. Eventually the Noles cut the lead to 23-12 at the end of the first quarter.
“We as a collective group decided we needed to start defending and rebounding (better),” an elated Brittany Brown said after the game. “We stayed together when adversity hit and we know our second half has always been the best.”
The Noles came alive in the second quarter, using their blend of quickness and athleticism to continue chipping away at the OSU lead. Leticia Romero scored six of her 10 halftime points in the period to lead the way for FSU. The turning point in the contest was Ivey Slaughter’s steal and score, giving the Noles life heading into the break down just 35-30.
The momentum had clearly shifted.
“I was confident that, you know, after that, in the second half, we were going to have a different kind of game,” Romero said of Slaughter’s steal. “That gave me so much energy to just play my game and help the team.”
“That was just what we needed. Every time we needed a big play Ivey made something happen,” Brown agreed.
“That play was a big difference maker.”
Romero was spectacular on the evening finishing 8 of 12 from the floor and leading all scorers with 18 points. The senior hit timely shot after timely shot to will the Seminoles from a deficit into a convincing victory.
“When Leti starts going, everybody else gets going, especially on the offensive end,” Slaughter said of Romero. “It was win or go home and I think it was amazing how she got going.”
The Seminoles roared out of the locker room in the third quarter with another steal from Slaughter and went on a quick 12-2 run to take a 42-37 lead.
Sparked by active hands, FSU continuously turned the Beavers over for fast break points. On the evening, the Noles cashed in on 28 points of 23 Oregon State turnovers and led 46-42 after three quarters.
“As far as our team goes, it all starts on the defensive end,” Semrau said. “For Ivey to open up the second half with that big steal, I think gave us a ton of energy.”
The Beavers, in front of a very OSU-heavy 4,500 fans didn’t quit and eventually tied the game at 46-46 with 6:55 left in the game. The Seminoles had an answer every time as Shakayla Thomas and Imani Wright hit back-to-back jumpers to extend the lead to four, breaking the backs of the OSU faithful and team. FSU finished the game on a 12-2 run, hitting clutch free throws to send the school back to the Elite Eight for third time in the program’s history.
The team’s leadership never allowed the Beavers back into the contest. In the last media timeout of the game, Semrau watched her seniors do most of the talking, a clear sign of her team’s experience and poise.
“They were locking each other in, they did a phenomenal job of communicating in the huddle, and then onto the court,” Semrau said.
“We were talking about making sure we met every one of their passes (defensively) and about end of game situations,” Brown added.
The Noles held the Beavers to just 36.4 percent shooting on the evening and outscored a much larger OSU roster 36-28 in the paint. FSU also protected the ball well in the game, turning the ball over just nine times.
Thomas secured a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the win, while Slaughter nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and nine steals. The nine steals by the senior were an NCAA Tournament Regional record.
FSU next takes on No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Elite Eight on Monday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and will have a chance at the school’s first ever Final Four. The Noles and Gamecocks are familiar foes, having last met in the 2015 edition of the Elite Eight.
“We have so much respect for South Carolina and the job that (Head Coach) Dawn (Staley) has done and the program and team that they have put together,” Semrau said.
“Just have a ton of respect for who they are and how far their program has come.”