Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:03 PM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Florida State nearly frittered away a big early lead with some cold shooting. Fortunately for the streaky Seminoles, Jason Rich got hot at just the right time.
Rich scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half Thursday and took the game over down the stretch to lead Florida State past Wake Forest 70-60 in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton "told me before the season I had to step up and make plays," Rich said. "It's just understanding that, and having confidence in doing that. I would love to leave my mark at Florida State. I think to some degree I already have, but I want to do it in a much bigger way."
Ralph Mims added 16 points for the ninth-seeded Seminoles (19-13), who blew most of an early 13-point lead but recovered, shooting 45 percent to win their league tournament opener for the second straight year. Once again, their reward is a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded North Carolina on Friday.
"We realize we have a tremendous opportunity against what is considered the No. 1 team in America," Hamilton said. "That's the one we have to look at. What we have to focus on is what we can control."
Jeff Teague scored 15 points to lead Wake Forest (17-13), which trailed almost the entire way after winning both regular-season meetings by an average of 12.5 points.
"They were a little more aggressive," coach Dino Gaudio said. "Maybe it meant those kids didn't want to go out on a loss in the first round of the tournament. We didn't have that aggressiveness we ususally have."
Rich, who scored 25 points in a losing effort in last month's meeting, almost single-handedly put this one away midway through the second half of this one. He scored 15 of Florida State's 17 points -- including 10 straight -- during one 41/2 minute stretch.
"Coach was telling me to get to the elbow and trust my shot," Rich said.
Good idea. After Wake Forest pulled within 45-42 on Teague's two free throws with just under 10 minutes left, Rich found his rhythm. He hit a jumper to start a 4-minute stretch in which he scored 12 of Florida State's 14 points on an array of jumpers from around the perimeter. His jumper from the left baseline extended the lead to 59-49 with about 51/2 minutes left, and the Demon Deacons didn't get closer than five the rest of the way.
"At the end of the game, we got the stops we needed, and Jason got hot," Hamilton said. "We wanted to take advantage of his focus, so we kept feeding him the ball and he came through for us."
Ryan Reid added a career-high 12 points and Toney Douglas added 10 for the Seminoles, who have won two straight and five of six.
David Weaver added 12 points and James Johnson had 10 for Wake Forest, which had won its previous three ACC tournament meetings with the Seminoles. The loss bounced the Demon Deacons from their ACC opener for the first time since 2005, when star point guard Chris Paul sat out with a suspension for punching N.C. State's Julius Hodge in the groin.
"We came up short, and we felt like we let some games slip away that we shouldn't have," point guard Ishmael Smith said. "But we can still get into the postseason and make a run in the NIT. We do have a bright future."
Wake Forest, a 36 percent shooting team from 3-point range, was held to 3-for-17 from beyond the arc. Weaver, a 6-foot-10 backup center, knocked down two 3s for just the second and third of his career.
Florida State raced out to a 28-15 lead in the first half during a 17-4 run that was capped by Douglas' 3-pointer from the key with 6:10 left before the break. Then, the Seminoles soon went cold, making only one more field goal in the half -- Uche Echefu's stickback with 1:41 left -- to allow the Demon Deacons to temporarily creep back into the game.
"We started slow, and that's the one thing Coach Gaudio didn't want," Smith said. "We came out and kind of got knocked on our heels."