Thornton off mark as FSU stumbles

Seminoles have letdown after big win against Duke, fall to Clemson 71-58.

By KEVIN BRAFFORD, Special to the Times
Published February 8, 2007

CLEMSON, S.C. - Al Thornton may or may not be the best player in the ACC, but it's difficult to dispute that he's the most valuable to his team.

So when the Florida State senior forward has a bad shooting night, the Seminoles figure to struggle. Such was the case Wednesday, as Thornton made just 4-of-14 attempts from the floor in a 71-58 loss to Clemson.

That ended the Seminoles' three-game winning streak, capped by Sunday's upset of then eighth-ranked Duke.

"We've got to put this behind us and look ahead to the opportunities we have," said Thornton, who finished with 21 points thanks to a solid night at the free-throw line. "We're 5-5 in the conference and 17-7 overall, and that's not all that bad."

Wednesday, there was plenty of bad to go around. FSU shot just 36.5 percent and had 14 turnovers against only 10 assists. Thornton was the only Seminole to score in double figures.

"I thought our defense was very good, not just against Thornton but their whole team," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We have to play good defense to be successful, and we did that tonight."

As was the case at Duke, the Seminoles started slowly. The Tigers (19-5, 5-5) came in having lost five of six after 17 consecutive victories to start the season and were impressive, holding FSU to nine points in the first 12 minutes for a 15-point lead.

"For whatever reason, we seemed to be uncomfortable right from the beginning of the game," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We knew they were going to press, but we didn't attack it the way we should have.

"Our theme for this game was poise and patience, and I'm not sure we showed very much of either one."

FSU's largest deficit was 31-14 after Sam Perry made a free throw at the 5:53 mark, and at that point the Seminoles had more turnovers (seven) than field goals (five).

An 11-5 spurt to close the half narrowed the gap to 36-25, but FSU spent the second half playing catchup. The Seminoles got as close as 55-50 on one of Thornton's 12 made free throws (15 attempts).

But a couple of empty possessions, coupled with a Cliff Hammonds' three-point play with 2:32 remaining, pushed Clemson's lead to 61-52.

That proved to be enough, as Clemson made 12-of-17 free throws in the final five minutes.

"Give credit to them," Thornton said of the Tigers, who got a combined 44 points from their outstanding guard trio of K.C. Rivers, Hammonds and Vernon Hamilton. "They took it to us tonight, and they executed better than we did."