Photos from FSU's 57-50 winClick Here to view this Link. (Photos by AP and Getty Images)
CHICAGO - Leonard Hamilton and Florida State don't have to answer questions about why they can't win on college basketball's biggest stage anymore.
Tenth-seeded Florida State came back from an eight-point deficit in the second half to win its first NCAA Tournament game of the nine-year Hamilton era with a 57-50 triumph over No. 7 Texas A&M in the round of 64 Friday night at the United Center. It was the Seminoles' first win in the NCAA Tournament since 1998, ending the longest drought among ACC clubs.
FSU (22-10), which was led by 15 points from its lone senior Derwin Kitchen, will face No. 2 Notre Dame (26-6) on Sunday in Chicago (the game time has yet to be determined). The Irish beat No. 15 Akron 69-56 in the previous game.
"The players knew it's not a success just to make the tournament," said Hamilton, who hadn't won in the NCAA Tournament since taking Miami to the Sweet Sixteen in 2000. "They were very business like. I feel this group is changing the culture of Florida State basketball."
It sure didn't look like the Seminoles, which had been bounced out of the first round each of the last two seasons, had changed in the early stages of the second half. The Aggies (24-9) scored the first two baskets (starting with a 3-pointer from Nathan Walkup) to push a 26-23 lead at the break up to 31-23.
But, the Seminoles dominated the rest of the way, ripping off a 13-0 run to grab a 36-31 lead, thanks largely to switching to an uncharacteristic 3-2 zone and pumping the ball into big man Bernard James on the inside.
James scored four unanswered buckets during that critical run, all in the paint, where the much taller Seminoles finished with a 26-12 scoring edge. James' defensive prowess was also largely to credit with that disparity on the interior. The junior blocked three shots and altered several others.
The Aggies, who got a game-high 16 points from swing man Khris Middleton, shot just 27 percent in the second half against the zone after knocking down 38 percent of their shots in the first half.
"The game plan from the beginning was to throw the ball down low and get their bigs in foul trouble," James said. "We didn't do a very good job getting position and calling for the ball in the first half. Coach (Hamilton) called us out in the locker room and we came out and got the job done."
FSU later got 3-pointers from Kitchen and Chris Singleton during a 17-6 run that put the game out of reach.
It was the first action for Singleton, FSU's star forward, since fracturing a bone in his foot against Virginia on Feb. 12. Hamilton said he didn't decide whether Singleton was going to play until about four hours before tip off and was still hesitant to use the junior. Singleton wasn't inserted until FSU fell behind midway through the first half and quickly picked up three fouls. But, he played nine straight minutes in the second half and finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting with a steal and a block in 16 total minutes.
"I said before to everybody that I felt pretty good about my conditioning. I don't think that was a factor," Singleton said. "The factor was if my foot was going to hold up and it did. I'm a confident player and I didn't think anything was to happen but you never know with injuries. But, I wasn't thinking about that."
Singleton was part of a solid performance from FSU's bench, which had six reserves combine for 16 points. The Aggies used four reserves who totaled seven points.
"I think everybody who played contributed and that's really the way we have been all year," Hamilton said.
It took Texas A&M over seven minutes to score its first point and the Big 12 program fell behind 7-0. But, the Aggies then got hot from long range, hitting five 3-pointers before the break. A 3-pointer from B.J. Holmes gave the Aggies their first lead at 16-15 and Middleton hit a clutch 3-pointer from the corner as time expired to give the Aggies a three-point edge at the half.
FSU was whistled for its seventh foul of the first half with 9:41 to go, putting Texas A&M in the bonus for the rest of the period. But the Aggies weren't able to take advantage. Normally a good free throw shooting team, they took 17 free throws and made only seven in the first half. A&M finished 9 of 19 from the charity stripe.
This is FSU's first postseason win since knocking off a No. 1-ranked North Carolina team in the ACC Tournament semifinals in 2009 in Atlanta.
FSU guard Deividas Dulkys remains in a slump. Dulkys missed the three shots he took - all 3-pointers - and is now 2 of 23 from the floor in his last four games.
FSU freshmen Okaro White (5-of-5 from free throw line) and Ian Miller (seven points and three assists in a season-high 27 minutes) both were significant contributors in their first NCAA Tournament game.
Attendance was listed at 17,352 (the United Center holds nearly 21,000).
FSU snapped Texas A&M's streak of winning its first NCAA Tournament game the last five years.
Texas A&M starting point guard Dash Harris was limited to 20 minutes due to a hip pointer.