Florida State guard Luke Loucks (3) dribbles behind his back to get past Cincinnati guard Jaquon Parker in the first half of their third-round NCAA Tournament game Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. Cincy, the No. 6 seed, upset No. 3 FSU, 62-56.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Florida State Seminoles can remember this season for winning their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.
They also beat North Carolina twice. Duke, too, including ending the Blue Devils' 45-game home winning streak.
That will have to be enough, along with reaching the NCAA tournament for a record fourth straight year, after struggling to hold onto the ball in a 62-56 loss to Cincinnati in the East Regional on Sunday night.
Seminoles senior Bernard James called it frustrating and bittersweet to end his career in a game he felt they could've played better.
"We've had a great season," he said. "We've won the ACC championship for the first time in our school history, so we're definitely proud of what we accomplished. We definitely didn't expect it to end this early in the NCAA tournament on a loss like that. I'm proud of our team. We fought all the way. We made mistakes, but we stayed together the whole time and we fought."
It would've helped if the Seminoles (25-10) had protected the ball better against sixth-seeded Cincinnati (26-10).
Luke Loucks led the Seminoles with 14 points. James and Michael Snaer both scored 11.
"They did the little things that gave them the edge to give them the opportunity to win this game," coach Leonard Hamilton said.
This game featured 19 lead changes and 11 ties, and neither team led by more than three in the second half until the Bearcats scored seven straight points. Sean Kilpatrick hit a free throw to tie it at 50, then Dion Dixon stole the ball on a careless pass from Loucks in front of the Cincinnati bench as Florida State tried to bring the ball upcourt. Dixon took off and slammed down a dunk to give Cincinnati the lead.
"I got a steal, it was just me and the basket," Dixon said. "I saw nobody else, and I went up and dunked it. It kind of sparked us a little bit."
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin called that the play of the game, with the Bearcats needing every steal possible to combat Florida State's size in the paint.
"That was a tremendous play on his part, reading the pass and tremendous anticipation," Cronin said.
Cashmere Wright hit a jumper, and Gates added two free throws for a 56-50 lead with 35.3 seconds left. The Bearcats sealed it by hitting all eight free throws in the final 35.3 seconds.
"After Dion got that dunk, we knew the game would come down to making free throws, so our focus got onto defense and free throws," Gates said. "So I think that enabled us to step up to the line and knock them down."
The Seminoles led 29-28 at halftime and were up by five in the first half. But a Florida State team that came into the NCAA tournament sixth in Division I holding opponents to 38.1 percent shooting couldn't stop Cincinnati in the second half. The Bearcats hit 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) overall and 12 of 13 at the free-throw line. Cincinnati had a big edge at the line (19 of 23) overall compared to Florida State (12 of 15).
Florida State had trouble holding onto the ball, too, with 13 of its 17 turnovers coming on steals by Cincinnati. The Bearcats turned those into 19 points.
Snaer said it was shocking how much the Seminoles struggled to hang onto the ball because the coaches warned them about how Cincinnati likes to pressure and go for steals. They just weren't ready for what they encountered on the court.
"Some guys didn't know how to handle it, and they got away with some strips," Snaer said. "We just weren't concentrating and protecting the ball the way we should have."
Cincinnati said before the game that Florida State would fit right in the Big East with its stingy defense, and this game looked just like a conference battle.
Florida State last led 50-49 on a pair of free throws by Loucks with 2:09 left after Gates' fourth personal foul of the game. That's when the Bearcats took over.
The first half gave a glimpse of what the final 20 minutes would be.
Snaer hit back-to-back 3s within the first 3 minutes after the Seminoles' leading scorer was shut out in their opening win over St. Bonaventure. Snaer missed on a couple of airballs, but he still had nine points by halftime.
Florida State led 26-25 at the break largely thanks to a quick six points keyed by senior Deividas Dulkys. The guard from Lithuania hit a 3-pointer, then had a pair of steals.