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No. 3 Florida State outlasts feisty Florida Gulf Coast

By Phillip Heilman, The Sports Xchange

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Road games have been a challenge throughout the season for a young but talented Florida State team. Thursday felt an awful lot like another one for most of the night against Florida Gulf Coast.

Sensing the upset-minded Eagles could provide a real challenge to the Seminoles, a suddenly enlivened crowd seemed to rally behind them in hope of seeing one of the opening round's biggest upsets.

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Instead, No. 3 seed Florida State used its superior size and depth to outlast No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast and earn an 86-80 victory in a West Region opener at Amway Center.

"We had a lot of anxious moments," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I thought at the beginning of the game everybody had that kind of nervous exhaustion, so to speak. ... That's part of being on this stage."

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Dwayne Bacon didn't seem to mind playing in his first NCAA Tournament game. The sophomore guard scored a team-high 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds. Jonathan Isaac also rose to the occasion, showing why he is a potential NBA lottery pick with 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

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Behind them, the Seminoles (26-8) advanced to play No. 11 seed Xavier, which beat Maryland earlier in the day, in the second round Saturday.

Brandon Goodwin led all scorers with 28 points on 12-of-27 shooting and had seven assists for the Eagles (26-8). Zach Johnson chipped in 17 points, five assists and four rebounds.

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"We played really well for the most part," Goodwin said. "I couldn't be more proud of my teammates for stepping up at that stage and just battling all game. I thought we never gave up."

That just explains the difficulty of beating a team like Florida State.

With what is widely considered their most talented team in years, the Seminoles have high expectations of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

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Of course, that will require better performances in tough environments than they put together in road losses to North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Duke during conference play.

Florida State got a glimpse of what to expect the further it advances, forced to battle a Florida Gulf Coast team that seemed to have just enough to hang in there all night.

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The Seminoles built their first cushion of the second half when Isaac capped a 7-0 run with a huge dunk while in transition to give FSU a 71-60 lead with eight minutes remaining. The Eagles never really threatened from that point on.

Earlier in the game was quite different, though.

The crowd really seemed to get into it when FGCU used a 12-0 run to build a 31-28 lead with 3:19 remaining before halftime. One of the most impressive plays of the half came a few possessions later when Goodwin drove to the rim, made a layup while twirling after making contact with a defender and drew a foul.

Goodwin's fearlessness even while going against a Seminoles frontline that includes the 6-foot-10 Isaac, 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje was evident.

"We're disappointed that we lost," FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. "I don't think it diminishes the year we had. We're proud of our guys. We had a heck of a year."

Bacon ensured the Eagles' year wouldn't continue despite their gritty effort. He hit one shot to snap FGCU's extended run and threw down a one-handed dunk a few possessions later to help Florida State take a 40-36 lead into halftime.

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Bacon said he expected to begin scouting Xavier early Friday morning.

The Seminoles will be counting on him to come through once again.

"(Bacon) has been our go-to guy all year," Hamilton said. "(FGCU) mixed their defenses up, man-to-man and zone. Our players were aggressively trying to get him the ball in areas where we thought that he could give us some offensive productivity."

NOTES:

-- FGCU F Demetris Morant had to be helped to the locker room early in the second half with what appeared to be an injury to his right leg. He did not return.

-- Florida State F Jonathan Isaac went above the rim to block a dunk attempt by FGCU in the final minute.

-- The Seminoles outrebounded the Eagles 46-26 and had nine blocks to FGCU's one.

-- Florida State has won at least one game in each of its past three trips to the NCAA Tournament, after getting knocked out in the first round in 2009 (Wisconsin) and 2010 (Gonzaga).

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