Florida State raised the 2012 ACC Championship banner before the game. That turned out to be the only thing the Seminoles and FSU fans would celebrate as a veteran South Alabama team upset the 25th ranked ‘Noles 76-71.
No one play wins or loses a game, but in this game, a close contest to the finish, came down to one play that put the Seminoles in a hole. With the score tied at 69 all in the last minute of the game, FSU’s defense was doing a stellar job at preventing every attempt to penetrate. However Freddie Goldstein drifted to the right wing outside the arc after being stopped in the lane and attempted a three point shot. Unfortunately Terrance Shannon caught him with his body, giving the Jaguars guard three free throws.
Goldstein, an 80% free throw shooter, easily sank the first two and rattled in the third giving USA a 72-69 lead and just twenty five seconds to play.
All American and Wooden Award candidate Michael Snaer, who had an off night shooting the ball, missed on a three point attempt and the subsequent foul to stop the clock gave the Jaguars two more points from the stripe.
Free throws by Okaro White with just 3.4 seconds left were meaningless with time short on the clock.
Some porous defense that led to open threes and uncontested drives to the rim were the main culprits.
Credit FSU, thoug,h for coming out with better intensity on the defensive end, putting more pressure on the ball that paid off in some easier transition baskets.
The extra effort resulted in FSU building a 49-45 lead with 11:42 left in the game.
USA was not about to go away however and drew even, taking a 64-61 lead on Antoine Allen’s deep three from the right wing with 6:28 left.
Allen led all scorers with 21 points, nailing 4 three-pointers in the process. The Jaguars will need to be sure to send the NCAA a thank you note as it was not known until game day if the NCAA would clear Allen to play. They did, and FSU was not the beneficiary.
Terry Whisnant tied it back up at 64 a piece with a wide open three from the left corner.
Goldstein made it 69-66 with two from the charity stripe at the 2:40 mark.
With FSU bogged down and players looking reluctant to shoot, a shot clock violation gave the ball to USA with 1:14 left. White made a stellar defensive play on the ensuing inbound play, forcing the steal by Whisnant. Ian Miller finished it with a three to tie at 69-69, setting the scene for what would be the deciding points.
It was the first season opening loss under Leonard Hamilton.
It was also the first game for several new players and the results were mixed. Montay Brandon had the best game of the group and was even in the game as PG at the end. But the rest of them saw mostly the bench as Hamilton went with his vets for most of the second half.
USA put five players in double figures shooting just 42%.
FSU had four in double digits with White and Brandon scoring 11 each. The Seminoles shot 42% as well but struggled in the second period connecting on just 35% of their attempts.
While FSU’s defense was improved in the second half, the difference was three pointers where the ‘Noles converted only 5 of 21. USA was 9 of 15, though.
It was not the start to the season that everyone had anticipated. But it was not a first for Hamilton to lose to a Ronnie Arrow coached team. Arrow was the coach of TAMCC when FSU lost at the civic center in a similar situation where the Seminoles were playing with four freshman and a JUCO transfer.
South Alabama also has made a habit of knocking off bigger name programs, including Arkansas, LSU, and Florida, under Arrow. The Jaguars were definitely pointing to this game since the summer.
Arrow credited a trip to Canada over the summer where his team got valuable experience to prepare for the opener.
FSU was learning how to mesh with all the newcomers. And that showed in this first game.
"They were a little tougher than we were," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They played with a lot more maturity. They executed their game plan better than we did."
It will be a process of basically starting over for FSU.
"The biggest thing with us is we have to have a short-term memory," Shannon said. "Put this game in the past and move on. We know we are young. We know it's going to take time."
That process will continue Monday night as FSU hosts Buffalo. Tip off is at 7 PM and will be shown on ESPN3.