For his last regular season game of his college career, Al Thornton saved his very best for last in leading Florida State to a 98-90 come from behind victory in overtime at Miami.
Thornton was virtually unstoppable as he abused Miami’s defenders, mostly Jimmy Graham, in scoring a career high of 45 points on 16 of 24 from the floor and a perfect 11-11 at the free throw line. It was just one short of FSU’s school record of 46 points that the (probably) ACC Player of the Week could have broken but chose to run out the clock after receiving a down the court pass.
The senior wasn’t just a scoring machine but was large factor on defense for the Seminoles. In addition to pulling down 8 rebounds, Thornton had two steals to go along with four blocked shots the most important one occurring with twenty three seconds left in overtime. Anthony Harris drove thru the perimeter defense and down the lane for an attempted layup. Thornton rotated over from the left swatting the shot away and into the hands of a FSU teammate. It preserved a six point lead that Isaiah Swann sealed with two free throws for the final margin.
Leonard Hamilton praised Thornton saying “He put us on his back and carried us to victory. He steps up when we have to have him.”
As has been the case many times this season Thornton put on a dazzling performance in every aspect of the game.
“He’s a superstar in his own right,” added Hamilton.
Of particular interest to FSU fans was the return of Toney Douglas. Out with a fractured hand since February 7th, Douglas logged 32 minutes. It may have taken him a half to get his shooting on track scoring all 13 of his points in the final period, but his three pointer from the left wing with seven seconds left in regulation could not have come at a better time.
Hamilton was grateful to have his starting point guard back as well but not just for his offense. “Toney’s speed was better in containing Anthony Harris. Ralph (Mims) did what he could for us, but Toney was just better at keeping him in front of him and prevent penetration.”
But certainly his offense was appreciated by the head coach. “That was the first time I’ve seen him hit a jump shot in live action in two and half weeks,” Hamilton commented about Douglas whose appearance was a game time decision.
Behind for all but 22 seconds of the first half behind by as much as seven points, FSU trailed 37-33 going into the second half. Despite shooting 52% in the first half, only Thornton with 18 points was able to do any damage against the Hurricanes. The second leading scorer at that point was Jason Rich with 4 points.
Meanwhile the ‘Noles were unable to contain Jack McClinton and Harris who combined for 24 points. The ‘Canes also added 6 three pointers in addition to dominating the boards.
FSU managed to erase that four point deficit within the first minute on a three pointer from Mims on an assist from Thornton to lead 38-37.
The lead was short-lived and FSU and Miami stretched out to a ten point lead after Brian Asbury’s three made it 61-51 with 12:12 to play.
The ‘Noles clawed back taking a 68-67 lead at the 6:04 mark when Thornton stole the ball and was off on a two on one break finishing off the play himself on the return pass from Rich.
FSU extended the lead to 70-67 on free throws by Douglas before going the next 3:30 with no points and looking completely inept while doing it. A Ryan Reid turnover turned into a McClinton layup. No one blocked out Asbury for the offensive putback. Douglas was double teamed and stripped of the ball leading to a four on none break away. And Swann’s bounce pass into traffic in the lane was easily picked off.
Harris’ one of two from the line gave Miami a 76-70 lead with 2:40 to play and things were looking bleak for FSU.
But Thornton scored the next seven points to pull FSU within one at 78-77.
After trading baskets Keaton Copeland connected on two free throws to make it 82-79 with 13.5 seconds left setting up Douglas’ three pointer to send it into overtime.
Hamilton made the observation about the closing minutes “I liked the attitude and body language of our players in that last minute.”
The shot seemed to give FSU more momentum in the extra stanza, especially on defense where FSU held Miami to just three baskets.
Thornton again led the way in overtime scoring 8 more points, the most dramatic being a slam dunk put back of a Douglas missed shot to make the score 94-86 with just over a minute to play.
FSU made sure to come away with the win by making all four free throw attempts that put the game out of reach for the Hurricanes.
The Seminoles in the second half seemingly could not miss a shot and for the game the ‘Noles shot 60% from the floor.
Rich was the other Seminole in double digits with 10.
McClinton finished with 31 points followed by Harris’ 19 and Asbury’s 16 points.
With the victory FSU keeps its hopes alive for an invitation to the NCAA tournament. ESPN’s Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Florida State as one of 23 teams on the bubble vying for 12 at large spots.
“This was an absolute must win for us.” Hamilton said. “It gives us a fighting chance. The players willed themselves to a victory and found a way to win the game. We were determined and hungry.”
“I told them before the game that we have a unique opportunity to go out and win this, added Hamilton. “Now we have to make the most of it” obviously referring to the upcoming ACC tournament in Tampa.
If Clemson loses to Virginia Tech on Sunday, Florida State will secure the eighth seed in the tournament. No matter if Clemson wins or loses, the Seminoles will play the Tigers at noon.