Chicago, IL - Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton did not like what he saw from his 10th-seeded Seminole basketball team in the first half of FSU's game versus Texas A&M. So he decided to do something he has rarely done this season and switch to a zone defense. That change resulted in a 34-24 second half for the Seminoles (22-10) as they downed the higher-seeded Aggies 57-50 in second round NCAA Tournament play in Chicago. The Seminoles will now advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 and face second-seeded Notre Dame Sunday.
The three-two zone defense helped FSU limit Texas A&M (24-9) to just 27% from the field in the second half and just over 28% from behind the arc, where Texas A&M especially hurt the Seminoles in the first half converting on 5 of 11 attempts. The zone defense coupled with the play of first-time NCAA Tournament participant Bernard James was the difference in the game.
After breaking out to an early 7-0 lead, FSU was trailing 26-23 heading into the second half and things got even worse as Texas A&M eventually broke out to a 31-23 lead. That is when James sparked a 13-0 run scoring eight of those 13 points while making four consecutive buckets at one point. After spending six years in the U.S. Air Force James started slowly in his first ever NCAA Tournament but ended up being one of the biggest difference makers in the win.
That all changed in the second half as James came up big again and again on both the offensive and defensive side of the court. The junior forward finished second on the team in points with 10 and second in rebounds with six. He also led the team with three blocks as he exerted himself inside the paint.
James didn't do it alone as he had plenty of help from Derwin Kitchen who lead the team with 15 points and seven assists. The entire squad also got a lift from the return of Chris Singleton who played for the first time since injuring his foot versus Virginia February 12. The ACC coaches' Defensive Player of the Year finished with five points, two rebounds, an assist and a block.
Singleton did not check into the game until 7:35 was remaining in the first half and the Seminoles were holding on to a 14-12 lead. The move to allow Singleton to return to the game was one Hamilton agonized over for fear of causing further damage to Singleton's foot.
Singleton will only have one day to rest his foot as the Seminoles will look to make a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993 as they face a Fighting Irish squad coming off an impressive opening round victory over Akron and boasting a 27-6 record. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools on the hardwood.
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