By Tim Linafelt
Bernard James scored 12 points in his final collegiate game.
NASHVILLE – Florida State finally ran out of magic.
Faced with yet another down-to-the-wire contest, the Seminoles needed one more escape act in order to slip past the Cincinnati Bearcats and extend their season for another game.
But as Cincinnati hit free throw after free throw in the game's waning moments, reality slowly set in – there would be no last-second drama this time. In a game that featured 19 lead changes, the Bearcats turned 17 FSU turnovers into 19 points and held off the Seminoles in the final minute for a 62-56 victory.
FSU ends its season 25-10; Cincinnati moves on to meet Ohio State in the Sweet 16 Thursday in Boston.
“In the scouting report, they were a tremendous what we call a 'strip team,'” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I thought they got a lot of deflections, steals, causing us to cough up that led to baskets. That was unfortunate regardless of what happened in the last two, three minutes. If we had taken care of the ball a lot better, at least we would have given ourselves a chance.”
Senior Luke Loucks led Florida State with 14 points and four assists in his final collegiate game, but it was the those final minutes that stuck with him as he sat in the locker room after the game.
“I'll be wishing for many, many years that I could have that play back,” said Loucks, who just moments before had hit two free throws to put FSU up 50-49. “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 home to kind of sneak in and tip the ball, but I should've just brought it up the court. I don't even know why I was passing at that point.”
46 seconds later, after Cashmere Wright put UC up 54-50, Loucks drew contact with a Cincinnati defender and, thinking that he'd been fouled, picked up his pivot foot. He was instead called for traveling.
Late miscues aside, the Seminoles had plenty of reasons to think they'd already let this one slip away. The teams traded blows in an ugly first half, but despite limiting UC to just 27.6 percent shooting, FSU went into the break leading only by one.
“If our offense was clicking a little better (in the first half), we would have a nice little lead,” said Bernard James, who finished his FSU career with 12 points and five rebounds. “Coming down the stretch, we did make some mistakes, but the effort was there and the intensity was there, too. Just didn't go our way tonight.”
Even as the Bearcats heated up – they shot 11-of-21 (52.4 percent) from the field in the second half – neither they nor FSU could find much separation.
From the 17:05 mark of the second half, when Bernard James' dunk put FSU up 28-25, until Wright's jumper with 58 seconds to go, neither team could open more than a three-point lead.
“It is frustrating, you know, especially this being my last college game,” James said. “I felt like we could've played better. Just one of those nights, things didn't really go our way.”
Michael Snaer, who was held scoreless for the first time in his career in Friday's win over St. Bonaventure, hit three 3-pointers in the first half on the way to an 11-point outing, and senior Deividas Dulkys added eight. Ian Miller, the team's third-leading scorer, was held without a point.
“Unfortunately, it had to end like this, but I can't say enough about how proud I am of them, because I really feel that they gave me what they had,” Hamilton said. “They gave our team what they had, and they represented Florida State and the Tallahassee community, themselves and their families in as fine a fashion as I've ever seen some young men represent a basketball team.”