WATCH: FSU men’s basketball finishes season in Sweet 16
ANAHEIM, Calif. – In the NCAA tournament, heartbreaking losses rarely come with a chance for a rematch.
Given an unlikely opportunity to strike back at Florida State for last year’s Sweet 16 upset, Gonzaga didn’t let it go to waste.
FSU’s Trent Forrest had perhaps his best game in months, scoring 20 points and dishing four assists as the Seminoles rallied to cut a 14-point deficit to just four late in the second half.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome the top-seeded Bulldogs, who used 17 points from future pro Rui Hachimura to pull away for a 72-58 victory in the NCAA West region semifinal at the Honda Center.
The Seminoles, in the Sweet 16 for the sixth time ever, finished their 2018-19 campaign at 29-8 and set a new school record for wins in a single season.
“We dug ourselves a hole in the first half,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Proud of my kids for coming back and cutting the margin in the second half. But we came up short against a really good team.”
The Seminoles came out shorthanded, too.
With seniors Phil Cofer (personal) and David Nichols (ankle) each out of the lineup, Florida State tried to flex its depth at Gonzaga but often had to lean on less experienced players.
Redshirt freshman RaiQuan Gray started his third consecutive game in place of Cofer, and the Seminoles were forced to play some first-time lineups and make some on-the-fly rotations – some of which they hadn’t tried all season.
Those changes opened the door for Gonzaga to attack some pressure points and build a 14-point lead in the first half.
“We had enough bodies,” Hamilton said. “But we had to make a complete overhaul as to our rotations and how we’ve been accustomed to doing certain things.”
“They withstood our depth,” FSU’s Mfiondu Kabengele added. “They played really well to knock down shots.”
The Seminoles, meanwhile, struggled to answer those shots.
Although FSU nearly matched Gonzaga from the field (each finished around 40 percent), the Seminoles critically made only 3 of 20 from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs (33-3) took advantage and, thanks to a 7-of-19 night from distance, outscored the Seminoles by 12 points at the perimeter.
“We’ve had a tendency, every once in a while, not to shoot the ball very well,” Hamilton said. “And, for whatever reason, against a team that was playing more of a pack-line type defense that gave us plenty of opportunities, we shot very poorly.
“And that’s a bad combination against a real good team that’s as talented as Gonzaga.”
FSU missed Cofer and Nichols in a number of ways, but the Seminoles might have missed their shooting the most. Cofer has long been one of the team’s most reliable 3-point shooters, and Nichols had shown himself to be capable as well.
Asked how things might have been different if they had been available, senior Terance Mann laughed to himself and said, “We definitely would have made a lot more 3s.”
In the first half, the Seminoles struggled to find much shooting stride at all. They connected on 10 of 30 shots in the first 20 minutes and fought through a three-minute scoring drought as the Bulldogs built a 33-19 advantage with 4:46 to go in the period.
Gonzaga’s aggressive rebounding didn’t help, either. The Bulldogs finished with a 45-36 edge on the glass, and turned 17 offensive boards into 12 points.
“We just couldn’t hit shots,” Forrest said. “We were getting everything right there at the basket, but outside shots weren’t falling for us.”
A few moments later, though, FSU seemed to have survived the worst of it and, after a quick 8-2 run, cut its deficit to eight and had two chances to get within two possessions at the end of the half.
That window, however, shut quickly when Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins grabbed a steal, got down the floor for a layup and was fouled with under a second to go.
Perkins completed the three-point play and the Bulldogs led, 38-27, at halftime.
“It wasn’t so much them, it was mostly us,” Kabengele said. “We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to in our game plan. We didn’t get enough turnovers. We didn’t rebound well. We didn’t knock down shots to spread the floor out. We didn’t get to the free-throw line like we needed to.”
Florida State, however, rallied in the second half thanks to change in offensive approach and a valiant effort from Forrest.
With the Seminoles’ shots not falling, FSU’s coaches delivered a simple message to their veteran point guard: Be assertive and get to the basket.
Forrest responded in kind, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the second half, and more often than not taking his defender straight to the rim.
Never mind the painful toe injury that had limited him for most of the season.
“My coaches kept telling me to be aggressive,” Forrest said. “And that’s kind of what I did.”
That was part of the plan, anyway.
The other part was to draw fouls, get to the free-throw line – where the Seminoles connect at a 74.1-percent clip – and cut into Gonzaga’s lead while the clock wasn’t running.
And that part never came to fruition. After a tight first few minutes, officials allowed a tough, physical game and called only seven fouls on Gonzaga in the second half.
As a result, FSU took just four free throws in the final 20 minutes.
“Our intentions were to try to (extend) the clock a little bit, take the ball to the basket and get to the free-throw line,” Hamilton said. “I thought our inability to get to the free-throw line and draw fouls had a lot to do with it as well.”
Even still, the Seminoles put one last scare into the Bulldogs, cutting their deficit to 60-56 after Forrest split a pair of free throws with 4:11 to play.
But Gonzaga then responded the way No. 1-seeded teams often do: With a 3-pointer on its next possession and a stop at the other end. The Bulldogs followed up Zach Norvell’s triple with two free throws and an alley-oop dunk as part of 12-2 run to finish the game.
“You think you’ve got a chance,” FSU assistant Stan Jones said. “And you just can’t seem to get that break to get over the hump.
Forrest finished with his highest scoring total since mid-December, and also chipped in with the four helpers, five rebounds, three steals and a block.
FSU senior Terance Mann, in his collegiate finale, added five points, seven rebounds, three assists and one highlight-reel dunk:
Send it in baby! pic.twitter.com/2jVfmp8225
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 29, 2019