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Seminoles fall flat

An exhausted FSU team falls behind early and never challenges Maryland in an 82-61 loss that ends its season.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2000


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With about two minutes left Friday afternoon, Florida State seniors Ron Hale, Damous Anderson and Oliver Simmons came out for the last time with wild applause ringing in their ears.

But the cheers weren't for them.

They were for Maryland's seldom-used and lone senior, point guard Matt Hahn, who had just dribbled the length of the floor and scored on an uncontested layup.

It wasn't quite the way the Seminoles' top trio wanted to go out. But then, the three showed little fire and even less energy, the latter somewhat understandable after playing Thursday night, in an 82-61 loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament quarterfinals at the Charlotte Coliseum.

They didn't merit an ovation for this day's work.

"It's unfortunate for your seniors, but you don't always get the chance to achieve everything you set out to in college basketball," FSU coach Steve Robinson said. "It's unfortunate. But they are a great group of young men. Those four seniors, Damous and Oliver and Justin (Mott) and Ron and what they tried to do for our basketball program, we're going to miss them."

Were it not for Hale's clutch, late-game shooting and Simmons' standout all-around performance against Georgia Tech a day earlier, the No. 7-seeded Seminoles (12-17) would not have advanced.

Their reward for a hard-fought win, their third in ACC tournament play, was a date against the well-rested Terrapins (23-8), the No. 2 seed and nation's No. 20 team that had won eight straight against FSU.

Gee, thanks.

"I guess the big thing about this game is that when you finish in the seventh position, you have to come back and play in less than 24 hours," Robinson said. "That's not an easy task. We just didn't seem to be able to play the game we wanted to."

"I was a little tired, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse," said Hale, the former Largo High star who ended a stellar career with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers. "They just did a good job tonight. They looked like a team that had been off."

The Seminoles could have finished fifth, which would have meant an off day Thursday, but came out flat in their regular-season finale against a reeling North Carolina State team in Tallahassee.

"It was a big advantage for us to be able to sit and watch yesterday while Florida State played a very tough game against Georgia Tech last night and then play this game in the afternoon," said Maryland's Gary Williams, whose team plays North Carolina State in today's semifinal. "We wanted to take advantage of that."

Sophomore center Lonny Baxter hit his first five shots for a 14-5 lead less than four minutes into the game. Baxter, an all-ACC pick, had 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.

"Lonny Baxter set the tone every time we played them," Robinson said of Baxter's 22.5 average in the two regular-season meetings. "Maybe I should send a letter for Gary to put his name into the draft. ... Gary will be getting a FedEx package from me tomorrow."

But Baxter wasn't the only Terrapin blowing past would-be defenders for layups or easy shots. They all were. The Terrapins hit 11 of their first 15 shots, culminating with a three-pointer from forward Danny Miller for a 23-12 lead with 12:02 left in the half. The Seminoles wouldn't see a single-digit deficit the rest of the way.

It didn't help the Seminoles that Anderson, already mired in a shooting slump, was playing with a bruised left wrist. He had nine points on 4-for-13 shooting.

An invigorated and healthy Delvon Arrington would have been a boost, but the junior point guard was sapped by playing 37 minutes against Tech and hobbled with Charley horses. He was limited to a season-low 16 minutes. Backup point guard Matt Chlebek led FSU with a career-high 11 points.

The low point for FSU came 1:27 into the second half when, with his team down 46-24, Robinson yanked his starting unit and inserted the core group of next season: sophomore forward Antwuan Dixon, freshman forward Rodney Tucker, freshman center Nigel Dixon, sophomore guard Emanuel Mathis and Chlebek.

"In order to make some form of comeback, we needed a little more effort," Robinson said. "I just decided to bring in another group and, hopefully, they could get something started and maybe that would jump-start the first group. Heck, it wasn't working; we had to change something."

They didn't and they heard it: the cheers for someone else.

WAKE FOREST 58, UNC 52: The No. 5-seeded Demon Deacons, down by as much as nine in the second half, rallied behind guard Robert O'Kelley to eliminate the No. 4-seeded Tar Heels.

O'Kelley was in the midst of a dismal shooting performance, drawing the ire of coach Dave Odom after a missed three-pointer, but he scored six of his nine and added an assist within 2:16 that carried the Deacons to a semifinal meeting with top-seeded Duke.

"As you saw, I was struggling in the first half," said O'Kelley, who didn't score but had four assists as Wake Forest took a 31-24 halftime lead. "I didn't get down on myself. I kept my head up. I knew that I could make big plays."

As the final seconds ticked off, some folks began to derisively serenade the uncharacteristically struggling Tar Heels with chants of "NIT, NIT."

N.C. STATE 76, UVA 65: Freshman forward Damien Wilkins beat the shot clock with an off-balance three-pointer, erasing the Cavaliers' largest lead and sparking a decisive 19-6 run for the Wolfpack.

Down 36-27 at the half, No. 3-seeded Virginia took a 42-40 lead with 16:39 left and seemingly had North Carolina State flustered. Then Wilkins, who had a game-high 17 points, hit his three.

"I just threw up a prayer and it got answered," he said.

"That was a killer," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "It was a hustle play. It was lucky, but when you hustle, those things happen."

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