FSU (#3 seed) led for the majority of the game Sunday afternoon against top seeded South Carolina, making its Elite Eight loss that much harder to take. The Seminoles were able to stretch their lead to 10 before halftime, but couldn’t sustain it for long.
South Carolina’s best players factored in to complete its comeback, leading the Gamecocks to an 80-74 win. Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates proved to be the spark their team needed, scoring 21 and 14 points respectively. Mitchell scored 7 consecutive points late in the game to give South Carolina their first substantial lead. Asia Dozier all but sealed the victory with 4 clutch free throws in the final half minute of the game.
Early on, FSU looked like it was on the way to its first ever Final Four appearance, forcing several South Carolina turnovers and converting them into points. The Seminoles hit four first half three-point shots and were especially efficient at the free throw line, missing only one foul shot in the first half.
FSU also did a good job of containing Coates early in the game. She recorded only one shot in the first half. South Carolina was able to get her the ball more in the second half, as she registered 12 points after the break.
The Seminoles battled hard to keep their lead, answering each Gamecock point with points of their own. South Carolina’s size and pressure allowed it to outlast FSU. A’ja Wilson, along with Coates, standing at 6’5 and 6’4 respectively, made it very difficult for the Noles to get points in the paint. Still, FSU managed to win the battle on the boards, grabbing 33 rebounds.
But, as the game wore on FSU’s shooting dropped off. The team finished the game shooting 42% from the floor, as opposed to South Carolina’s 61%. Leticia Romero finished with 13 points, followed up by Brittany Brown with 12, and Adut Bulgak with 11.
Romero, who has been the driving force for the Seminoles all season long, looked like she was bothered by an injured right hand and wrist for much of the game. She went 5-14, which is uncharacteristic of her.
It didn’t help that several of her teammates got into foul trouble later in the game. Maegan Conwright, arguably FSU’s best defender, picked up her fourth foul with over 14 minutes left to play. Emiah Bingley and Brittany Brown would end up fouling out.
Though their tournament run ended sooner than they would’ve hoped, the Seminoles turned in the best season in program history, finishing with a 32-5 record. They also reached the ACC Tournament championship game for the first time ever.
The team has a lot to look forward to going into next season. Conwright is the only senior on the team, meaning the rest should return for next year. If the team remains intact, it will likely be one of the best in the country. As sophomores, Romero and Brown, along with freshman Shakayla Thomas, will grow into their roles as young leaders for this strong Seminoles squad.
Despite the disappointment, the Noles were able to find some consolation in the amazing season they had. Brown summed up the sentiment nicely when she said, “We made history and it was just fun. This is one of my favorite years of playing basketball. I’ll remember this forever.”
And so will FSU.
By MATT SIMONS / Sports Editor