CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Seminoles.com) – As they huddled with seven minutes left in the game and down 58-54 to 12-seed Bucknell, a familiar feeling surrounded Florida State at Halton Arena.
During the immediately called timeout by Sue Semrau, freshman Valencia Myers reminded her teammates that they’d been in this position, seemingly, a dozen times before.
“It’s funny because, in the huddle as motivation, I told the team that we are the same team that was down by 10 to Virginia Tech (earlier in the year) with four minutes left,” Myers said.
“So, if we can do that we can definitely come back down four with basically a whole quarter left. We just have to have confidence in ourselves.”
Myers hit a pair of free throws, Nicki Ekhomu added another layup and in a matter of possessions, the game was tied at 58-58. The Seminoles scored 8 of the next 11 points to take a five point lead, eventually holding on for the 70-67 win over Bucknell.
For Myers and her teammates, crunch time has become a comfort zone. FSU has played in 11 games this season that have been decided by five points or less.
The Seminoles have won 10 of them.
Florida State is no stranger to handling adversity, owning a 10-1 mark this season in games with a five-point margin or less.
On the road in ACC play against the aforementioned Hokies, North Carolina, and Virginia the Noles were down multiple possessions late into the fourth quarter in each game, ultimately finding a win all three contests.
“It helps a lot having been in those situations against great teams in tough situations on big stages and I thought that their confidence never waned,” Semrau said on her team’s experience in close games. “Thought they got a little frustrated with the fouls. We fouled a lot tonight, but to keep their mind in it was big for this young team.”
On Friday against the Bison, while Myers was brilliant on the afternoon (15 points and 6 rebounds) the veterans on the team led the way with poise and toughness.
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Ekhomu broke a 60-60 tie with a drive to the bucket, then Kiah Gillespie hit a monumental three-pointer to extend the lead to 66-61 with 3:27 left in the game. And Nausia Woolfolk’s acrobatic lay-in moments later gave the Noles a 68-63 advantage as the Bison threatened to tie the game. All three upperclassmen were instrumental on the night as the trio combined for 47 points.
“For our teammates to trust us and put it in our hands, it shows they have confidence in us to knock it down and it just shows that they rely on us a lot,” Woolfolk said following the game.
“It’s more so hitting the shots and if we can’t, to just go in and rebound hard. I mean we got to do what we got to do for the team and the fact that they trust us and lean on us and can communicate with us is great.”
It’s no secret that the Seminoles are inexperienced. The youngest team in the 2019 NCAA Tournament resides in Tallahassee.
Replacing all five starters from a year ago, Semrau was tasked with continuing a tradition she’s worked her entire career to build. After the win against the Bison on Friday in Charlotte, her program has now won 16 consecutive NCAA First Round games–15 with her at the helm.
“You look at what Sue did throughout the season, I did not realize until this week preparing for them. She probably should get more credit for what she has done this season which is incredible,” Bucknell coach Aaron Rousell said following the game.
“They had five new starters with the injuries that they had and down to eight bodies – that is an incredible season. I thought they were a tough team.”
Head Coach Sue Semrau received plenty of praise post-game from Bucknell coach Aaron Rousell after having a fulfilling season so far with key injuries and numerous freshmen.
Toughness has been the hallmark of this version of the Seminoles’ roster. What they’ve lacked in some areas, they’ve made up for in grit and determination. 24 wins are in the books, surpassing even the most optimistic of pre-season expectations.
The victory against Bucknell highlighted their will to win with the season on the line, setting a date with familiar post-season foe, South Carolina, on Sunday at 2 p.m. Another potential victory on Sunday will require the Noles to remain true to their season-long identity.
“I’m just so proud of our players,” Semrau said.
“For them to just bear down and come back and win a gritty game, I’m just really, really proud of them.”