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March 3, 2007With his lower back aching, his right wrist taped up after yet another hard foul and his shoulders suffering from a little bit of "saddle burn," Florida State forward Al Thornton dug in for one last fight on Saturday afternoon.
And Thornton scored a career-high 45 points on a day where his team needed every single one of them to lead the Seminoles to a gritty 98-90 overtime victory over Miami. The win gives FSU a 19-11 record, 7-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Thornton made 16 of 24 shots, was 11 for 11 from the free throw line, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots.
"Al had one of those special-player, special-game days," FSU associate head coach Stan Jones said. "He just refused to let us lose. He carried us in the first half when we had to have it. Then at halftime, we talked about having someone else step up with him and then he and Toney [Douglas] gave us a chance to play for five more minutes."
Truthfully, it was what Thornton didn't do in the closing seconds that may add just a bit more shine to his sterling performance. With a wide-open basket in front of him, he passed up the chance to score on an easy dunk that would have given him the single-game scoring record at FSU. His 45 points were one short of the mark set by Ron King against Georgia Southern in 1971.
By that point, FSU didn't need any more magic from the 6-foot-8 forward who has a chance to become the program's first Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
"I'd love to see the ACC at least make him the Player of the Week in the last week of his career," Jones said. "He deserves that much. But as big as the day was for Al, this is a big win for us -- especially if we can build on this and do something with it in the ACC tournament."
FSU had hoped to take care of its NCAA tournament bid long before today's regular-season finale at Miami. And the Seminoles looked well on their way to doing just that until starting point guard Toney Douglas broke a bone in his shooting hand that forced him to miss five games.
Heading into the Clemson game that saw Douglas break his hand, FSU was 17-6 and 5-4 in the ACC. The Seminoles went 1-4 without him and saw their postseason outlook turn from sunny to mostly cloudy. But Douglas made his return on Saturday, and showed everyone why he plays such a key role on this team.
He scored 13 points -- all of them in the second half -- and delivered the biggest 3-pointer of the game when FSU needed it the most.
Trailing 82-79 with under 15 seconds remaining, Douglas calmly dribbled up the right side of the court, maneuvered around two ball screens from his post players and sank a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
"Obviously, that was real big," Jones said. "Toney had over-dribbled twice before and picked up two turnovers that really hurt us. But he did a great job of staying under control. And I don't know if people noticed it, but our two big men did a great job of setting quick ball screens in transition to really free him up.
"Toney is a big-shot maker and there was no hesitation on his part. I was just worried that we had seven more seconds to guard, because the way this season has gone we're used to seeing other teams make shots in that situation."
But the FSU defense held its ground in the final seconds of regulation, forcing Miami guard Jack McClinton to twice change direction with his dribble in the open court and preventing the Hurricanes from getting a clean look at the game-winner.
Once the Seminoles got to overtime, they put the saddle on Thornton's back one more time and let him carry them to a victory they had to have to keep their NCAA tournament chances alive.
"What Al did today is one of those things that people will be talking about for a long, long time," Jones said.
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