BUFFALO, N.Y. - For 30 minutes, the Florida State men's basketball team looked every bit like a group poised for a run in the NCAA Tournament, unfazed by a mature and experienced Gonzaga team with 12 consecutive Tournament appearances to its name.
The only trouble was that those 30 minutes came entirely in the second half - and only after FSU fell into what proved to be an insurmountable hole in the game's opening period.
The Seminoles (22-10) nearly erased a 16-point halftime deficit, but a lack of time and struggles at the free throw line conspired to send FSU out of the Tournament with a 67-60 defeat. It is Florida State's second first round exit in as many years.
"I'm disappointed," said junior guard Derwin Kitchen, who finished with seven points and five assists. "Just because we played good in the second half doesn't mean my feelings change about the game."
Behind a strong effort from guard Deividas Dulkys, the Seminoles staged a furious second half rally that made the Gonzaga faithful - confident in the game's outcome just moments before - more than a little nervous.
Dulkys, who finished with a team-high 14 points, banked in a 3-point shot with just over two minutes remaining that cut Gonzaga's lead to four.
"I really thought we had a chance," Dulkys said.
Following a defensive rebound on the subsequent possession, freshman Michael Snaer went to the free throw line with a chance to bring the Seminoles within one shot. But Snaer, who has shown a remarkable cool throughout his freshman campaign, missed both attempts.
The Seminoles never got any closer.
"We had some clutch free throws that we just couldn't finish off, and a couple of easy baskets, but we fought back," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "And hopefully it will be something for us to build on as we move in to next season."
Florida State shot a paltry 6-of-28 (21.4 percent) in the first half, and trailed 35-19 at the break. Dulkys, Kitchen, and Solomon Alabi were the only Seminoles to score from the field in the opening period.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga, led by West Coast Conference player of the year Matt Bouldin, had four players score in double figures, and finished with a 38-32 rebounding advantage.
Bouldin led the Zags with 17 points, while guard Steven Gray added 15 points and seven rebounds. The Zags finished 21-of-42 from the field, marking the first time in 68 games that FSU has allowed an opponent to shoot at least 50 percent.
"They pushed us all the way to the very end," Zags coach Mark Few said of FSU. "We knew they were going to make a run, and they did."