NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Luke Loucks kept his uniform on. He didn't even untie his shoes. He leaned forward, planted his elbows on his knees, stared at the locker across from him and fielded every question about his struggles down the stretch.
While Florida State's senior point guard had two polarizing turnovers within the final two minutes, it served as a microcosm of a mistake-riddled performance by the No. 3 seed Seminoles in their 62-56 loss to No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday.
A team that was clutch down the stretch of this season couldn't come up big on this night. A bunch that withstood a turnover-prone persona to tally 24 wins and its first-ever ACC Title was doomed by the miscues this time out.
"It was a tough game, we were both battling, neither of us wanted to go home," Loucks said. "But those last three or four minutes, we made too many mistakes and gave up some points that they didn't really earn. They made some big plays at the end and we didn't. That's the story, they're going to move on and we're going to go home. It's a tough day for us."
A tight, physical contest throughout, the game saw 11 ties and 19 lead changes and no team built a lead larger the five for the first 39 minutes. But it was the final lead change - a careless Loucks pass was easily intercepted by Dion Dixon for a breakaway dunk with 1:30 left to give the Bearcats a 52-50 lead - that would turn the tide in Cincinnati's favor.
"I'm going to be wishing for many, many years that I could have that play back," Loucks said, speaking just above a whisper in the Florida State locker room. "I didn't even see him that close over there. As a senior point guard, you can't just throw the ball around the court without looking before. It was a great play by him to sneak in there and tip the ball. I wish I could have that play back, I'm sure I'll regret that for a long time."
After a Michael Snaer miss, Cincinnati would extend its lead to 54-50 on a jumper from Cashmere Wright with 58 seconds to play. Another Loucks turnover and a deep miss by Okaro White on the Seminoles next two possessions allowed the Bearcats to get the lead to six. FSU would never be able to get the game to one possession again as Cincinnati - a team that shot just 64.4 percent from the line this season - made its final eight free throws to ice it.
"We beat a team (Sunday) that could have won the national championship," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose team will take on No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. "They have veteran players, unbelievable coaching staff, and really refuse to lose mentality. It was all we could do to take care of the ball and try to get one shot against them, as hard as we had to work on the offensive end all year.
"Somebody had the lose (Sunday), and obviously Florida State was on the short end of it. But they had a great season, but couldn't be prouder of my guys. They just hung in there for 15 rounds."
Florida State (24-10) struggled against the Bearcats' relentless pressure from the outset, turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, which Cincinnati turned into 11 points. Despite shooting 8 of 29 from the field in the opening period, the Bearcats accrued seven steals only trailed FSU by one at the break. Florida State would wind up with 17 turnovers in all.
"We made some mistakes down the stretch. It wasn't even really those last couple minutes that killed us," said FSU center Bernard James, who joins Loucks as one of six seniors who will depart. "Everybody knows that the most, but it was really the first half. We just played like crap."
The Bearcats would finish with 13 steals and 19 points off of turnovers on the night. The Bearcats would heat up from the field in the second half going 11 of 21 from the field. Sean Kilpatrick scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half including a pair of 3-pointers in the final 3:45.
Loucks would finish with a team-high 14 points while James added 12 and Michael Snaer had 11. But that wouldn't be enough to overcome the missteps and advance to its second consecutive Sweet 16.
"Unfortunately (Sunday), they did very good job of deflections, steals, causing us to cough up that lead to baskets," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "That was unfortunate regardless of what happened in the last two, three minutes. If we had we taken care of the ball a lot better, at least we would have given ourselves a chance."