Gonzaga keeps its poise against charging Florida State
By Allen Wilson
News Sports Reporter
Since bursting on the national scene more than a decade ago, Gonzaga has gotten used to taking everyone's best shot in the NCAA Tournament.
Such was the case Friday night as ninth-seeded Florida State nearly delivered a haymaker to the eighth-seeded Bulldogs in their first-round West Regional matchup.
But playing in so many big games has made Gonzaga battle-tested. That experience proved invaluable as the Bulldogs avoided an epic second-half collapse to defeat the Seminoles, 67-60, at HSBC Arena.
Gonzaga (27-6) blew most of an 18-point lead, but hung on to advance to the second round, where the West's top seed, Syracuse, awaits on Sunday.
"Any time you can dig out an NCAA Tournament win, it's a great thing," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I thought Florida State did hang with it, hang with it and they pushed us all the way to the very end.
But these guys did a great job of keeping their poise." .
The Bulldogs' offense was as good as advertised early on. It got almost any shot it wanted and made them count in building a 35-19 halftime lead.
The advantage swelled to 18 points (41-23) on guard Matt Bouldin's 10-foot bank shot 31/2 minutes into the second half.
But the game took a dramatic turn. The Seminoles (22-10), who sleepwalked through the first half, clawed their way back into the contest behind their trademark stout defense.
They also were helped by Gonzaga, whose once-lively offense turned stagnant. Instead of relying on their usual ball movement, the Bulldogs kept trying to force the ball inside.
The resulting turnovers and poor transition defense by Gonzaga allowed the Seminoles to get layups and dunks.
"We played Florida State basketball in the second half," forward Chris Singleton said. "Our defense turned up. They weren't getting as easy looks as they were."
No one was more deadly behind the arc for Florida State than guard Deividas Dulkys, whose four three-pointers accounted for most of his team-high 14 points off the bench.
Three of his treys came in a three-minute span, including one that banked off the glass to make it a 59-55 game with 2:21 left.
"When a shooter like that gets it going, you know, they always say he can throw it up from anywhere and it seems to go in," Gonzaga guard Seven Gray said. "It's just one of those things."
But the last two minutes came down to free-throw shooting, an area in which the Bulldogs were superior.
After Michael Snaer missed a pair of foul shots that would have gotten Florida State within two points, Gonzaga put the game away by making 8 of 10 from the line..
Florida State made it to the tournament on the strength of its defense. The Seminoles led the nation in holding opponents to just 37.4 percent shooting from the field.
But Gonzaga shot 50 percent, ending Florida State's 67-game streak of holding opponents under that number. The Bulldogs entered the game as the sixth-best shooting team in the country at 49.4 percent.
Despite giving away a lot of size, Gonzaga refused to be bullied inside. It went right at the Seminoles' tall front line. Some attempts were swatted away, but the Bulldogs converted their fair share of shots around the rim.
"I thought we shot it pretty well," Bouldin said. "We got decent looks. But I thought all the points in the paint were huge and a big reason why we shot such a high percentage."
Gonzaga was especially hot early. It sliced up Florida State's defense, finding scoring opportunities by using patience, crisp passing and breaking down defenders off the dribble.
The Bulldogs made 10 of their first 16 shots and made 53.6 percent from the field in building their 16-point halftime lead.
The Bulldogs even won the battle on the backboards, 38-28, against one of the strongest rebounding teams in the nation.
Forward Elias Harris and center Robert Sacre did most of the damage in the first 20 minutes. With Harris splashing jumpers and Sacre pounding his way to the rim, the pair scored 22 of their 26 combined points in the first half.
Meanwhile, Florida State struggled early to establish any semblance of an offense. It made just six field goals on 28 shots in the first half, a brutal 21.4 percent. Many of the misses were from point-blank range.
It wasn't until the Seminoles found the range -- inside and out -- in the second half that they were almost able to pull off an improbable comeback.
"I was disappointed that we had maybe better shots than what they had," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "So had we shot anywhere close to being a decent percentage in the first half, maybe it would have given us a little more of an opportunity." .