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February 22, 2006
Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton said he was not in the mood to celebrate too much on Wednesday night. Of course, he certainly did not mind seeing Al Thornton enjoy a victory lap following the Seminoles biggest win of the season.
Thornton's 27 points and 12 rebounds fueled FSU's 71-60 victory over Maryland, keeping the Seminoles alive for a possible NCAA tournament bid and ending a 12-season streak of futility in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The victory marks the first time since the 1992-93 season that FSU has won more than six league games.
"I've been doing this a long time and I know we have bigger goals," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "To be very honest with you, we're not feeling like we need to be taking any bows."
Thornton, FSU's star junior forward, didn't mind basking in the celebration with the crowd. Following post-game handshakes, Thornton raced over to the student section and exchanged high-fives with everyone in sight.
That was the first time all night Thornton let his emotions take over. When teammate Alexander Johnson was forced to sit just two minutes into the game because of foul trouble, a determined Thornton took over on both ends of the floor.
He scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first half as the Seminoles raced to a 14-point lead. He then added 17 huge second-half points to keep FSU's lead comfortable the rest of the way.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Swann bounced back from a string of disappointing performances to score 12 points. More importantly, he helped hold one of Maryland's top scorers ? guard Mike Jones ? to just two points.
FSU coaches praised the team's determination on the defensive end. The Seminoles held the Terrapins to just seven offensive rebounds ? nearly half of what the ACC's second-best rebounding team averages.
FSU out-rebounded Maryland, 37-31.
"That's what won the game, because we sure weren't pretty offensively," FSU assistant coach Mike Jaskulski said. "We took a team that was scoring over 80 a game and held them to 60.
"The thing you have to be most pleased with at this time is we're improving where we most need it ? and that's defensively."
That defensive improvement now has the Seminoles sniffing an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since the 1997-98 season. FSU is tied with Virginia and Miami for fifth place in the league and has already swept the Cavaliers.
But to make that next step forward into March Madness, the Seminoles will have to find a way to please the NCAA selection committee.
A win at Virginia Tech this weekend would certainly help the cause. So, too, would victories over Duke and Miami next week. But none of those games would have meant nearly as much if the Seminoles hadn't taken care of business against Maryland.
"This was a huge game for us," Hamilton said, "and on Saturday it's going to be a huge game for us. Every game gets bigger and bigger and bigger."
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