NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As soon as C.J. Walker made his first free throw, the one that effectively sealed Florida State’s win over Xavier here late Sunday night, Terance Mann and P.J. Savoy exchanged a knowing smile near mid-court.
They knew it, same as everyone else packed into Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena knew it. And the same as the college basketball world knows it now:
The Seminoles are going to the Sweet 16.
Walker then connected on the second free throw, Xavier turned over the ensuing inbounds pass and the Seminoles erupted in celebration of a moment seven years in the making.
No. 8-seed Florida State 75, No. 1 Xavier 70.
“Another one is done!”
Florida State has STUNNED Xavier. pic.twitter.com/mUM8iLrgPv
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2018
The Seminoles are headed to the NCAA West Region semifinal in Los Angeles, where they’ll meet fourth-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday.
It’s FSU’s first ever win against a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and it brings about the school’s fifth all-time appearance in the Sweet 16 and first since 2011.
“I was especially proud of our players, because (of their) body language, the mannerisms, their level of communication,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “With each timeout, they never showed any lack of confidence that we could win the basketball game.”
— Leonard Hamilton (@FSUCoachHam) March 19, 2018
The Seminoles exacted a measure of revenge on Xavier, which ended their season in this same round a year ago.
And the Musketeers threatened to do it again.
But unlike last year, when Xavier stunned FSU and ran away with the game, this time, the Seminoles had answers.
FSU erased a pair of big deficits – nine points in the first half and 12 in the second – and took the lead for good when P.J. Savoy drained a 3-pointer that made it 71-70 with 1:08 to go.
Savoy received a pass from Trent Forrest, took a stutter step that froze his defender and then calmly knocked down the biggest shot of his life and of Florida State’s season.
Clutch. Bucket. pic.twitter.com/jTyemFsgSf
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2018
“I did hesitate just to see what the defender was going to do,” Savoy said. “And I saw he backed up and I let it fly.”
Savoy finished with 11 points, Braian Angola had a team-high 16 and Forrest added 13 for FSU, which went on an 18-5 run to close the game.
J.P. Macura scored 17 for Xavier before fouling out. And the Seminoles virtually shut down Xavier’s leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett.
Bluiett, who score 29 against FSU a year ago, had only three points at halftime and finished with eight points on 2 of 8 shooting.
“I can’t say that we maybe are extremely – are much better – than Xavier,” Hamilton said. “But we were much better than Xavier in the last two-and-a-half minutes of the game. Sometimes when the games are close, that’s all that’s important.”
Xavier in the first half flexed its muscles with a 10-0 run early in the period that turned one-point FSU lead into a nine-point deficit.
But sparked by an outburst from Forrest, Angola and Phil Cofer, the Seminoles scored 17 of the next 21 points and led, 32-29, with 2:03 to go in the half.
And the lead might have been bigger, were it not for a midcourt charge against Forrest that broke up an FSU fast break. Moments later, Macura hit a deep 3 off an inbounds pass for Xavier’s first made field goal in more than nine minutes.
The Musketeers then took a two-point lead into the break with a pair of free throws following an offensive foul.
And when Xavier started the second half on a 10-3 run, the region’s top seed seemed on the verge of a trip to Los Angeles.
But the Seminoles answered again, first by tightening up on defense and then using that defense to get their offense in rhythm.
FSU in the second half turned 11 Xavier giveaways into 18 points. The Seminoles also scored 10 fast-break points in the second period, got eight second-chance points and made 16 of their 19 free throws.
“We just kind of credited the defense, really, being able to get stops and being able to get out,” Forrest said. “I feel like that just transitioned right into our offense.”
Xavier, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to seize further control by shooting just 19 of 30 from the free-throw line, and 11 of 18 in the second half.
“I’ll tell you the reason that we’re not moving on: Turnovers on our part caused by a tremendous amount of pressure from Florida State,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t hit our free throws when we had the ability to maybe stretch the lead. That really hurt us. We’ve been a really good free-throw shooting team all year. And then we gave up some offensive rebounds. It was sort of the cumulative effect of all those things.
“So Florida State moves on.”