ATLANTA — There’s one more net left to cut down. And on Monday night, the Florida State men’s basketball team will get a chance to climb a ladder and go take it.
Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell combined for 46 points, RaiQuan Gray hit the biggest 3-pointer of his life, and Dominic Olejniczak added the biggest block of his as the Seminoles upset No. 1 overall seed Kansas, 81-77, on Saturday night in Atlanta.
«Kansas? More like CAN’T-sas,» said redshirt sophomore Wyatt Wilkes in the victorious FSU locker room. «I mean, they were a good team. Don’t get me wrong. They made us work. But we had Devin and Patrick, and they didn’t. So we’re going to the ‘Ship, and they’re going back to Topeka or wherever that school is.»
Florida State will play Louisville, a 71-62 winner over Gonzaga, on Monday night for the national championship. The Seminoles beat the Cardinals both times they played during the regular season.
«They say it’s hard to beat a good team three times in one season,» said Williams, who also had eight rebounds and three blocks. «But if you guys haven’t been paying attention, it’s hard to beat us at all. So, you know, good luck with that, Louisville.»
In the title game, the Seminoles will hope to get another effort from Williams like the one they got Saturday night. The freshman phenom, who has already declared for the NBA Draft, scored 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the floor. He hit two 3-pointers and made all four of his free-throw attempts.
He also threw down a vicious dunk over Kansas All-America center Udoka Azubuike early in the first half.
«It was like he had never watched film of Patrick before,» said senior guard Trent Forrest, who finished with 6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. «He kind of just stood there at first, and then he jumped late. By that time, Pat was already dunking the ball off his head.»
«That was incredible,» Gray said. «The ball bounced over our bench and into the crowd. Have you ever seen that before? I’m surprised it didn’t bounce into M.J.’s face and knock his teeth out or something. That was just crazy.
«Pat’s something else, man. I imagine he flew up some draft boards after tonight.»
The Seminoles had to play the national semifinal without the aforementioned M.J. Walker because the NCAA slapped him with a one-game suspension earlier in the week. The junior guard was disciplined after tackling the Houston Rockets’ mascot, Clutch, during the Seminoles’ Elite 8 win over Ohio State. (By Saturday evening, the viral video of that incident had been viewed over 55 million times on YouTube).
Anthony Polite took Walker’s place in the starting lineup.
«Yeah, it was cool being on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘Ellen’ this week,» Walker said. «But having to be on the bench tonight, and not getting to play with my brothers, was excruciating. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done … other than, you know, coming back from the T-shirt gun injury.
«I’m just glad we pulled it out. Devin was awesome. Trent was Trent. And ‘Swatch’ (Polite) played awesome down the stretch on defense.»
Even with Williams’ breakout performance, and even with the Seminoles forcing 19 Kansas turnovers, the Seminoles could never really get separation from the Jayhawks.
Leading scorer Devon Dotson scored a game-high 29 points, including 18 in the second half. Azubuike was dominant, as usual, racking up 22 points and 17 rebounds. But after Kansas took a 71-68 lead with five minutes left, the senior All-American’s biggest weakness came to the forefront.
Azubuike, a career 41.5 percent free-throw shooter, missed six of seven from the line over the next four minutes.
«That was great strategy by Coach Ham to put Azu-brick-e on the line like that,» said Wilkes, who was inserted into the game twice to foul the Kansas big man. «I kept asking him if he knew the objective was to get the ball through the hoop. And I’ll tell you what, that dude has NO sense of humor. Eighty-four inches of boring.»
Wilkes, who has become a media and fan favorite in recent weeks because of his turns of phrase and filter-less quotes, said he came up with the «Can’t-sas» line on Friday and couldn’t wait to use it.
«All week I had been leaning toward, ‘Check yo Self before we wreck Bill Self,'» Wilkes said, referring to the Kansas head coach. «But I thought that might be disrespectful since Coach Ham and him have such a history together. So I just decided to insult the entire state instead.»
Self was actually the first assistant coach Leonard Hamilton ever hired. He was on Hamilton’s staff at Oklahoma State starting in 1986, and they worked together for four years before Hamilton moved to Miami.
After the biggest win of Hamilton’s career, the two shook hands and exchanged a quick word at midcourt.
«I told him, ‘That’s for stealing Andrew Wiggins from us,'» Hamilton said with a smile. «No, Bill is a great coach and he’s got a great program. I just thought we made a couple more plays down the stretch than they did.»
As Azubuike was clanking free throws, the Seminoles were wrestling away control of the game. A put-back by Williams cut the Kansas lead to 73-72 with 2:07 left. And then a possession later, Gray hit the biggest shot of his life — a go-ahead, step-back 3 from the top of the key with two seconds on the shot clock.
«I pump-faked and started to drive,» Gray said. «Then I saw a defender start to help down in the paint. I had already been called for three charges, so I decided attacking the basket might not be a great idea. I just took a dribble, backed up and let it fly. And it was all net. I mean, they don’t call me ‘Big Shot RaiQuan’ for nothing.»
«Nobody calls you that, man,» Vassell said with a smile from the next locker.
«Well, they’re going to now,» Gray responded.
After the big man’s 3-pointer, the Seminoles led 75-73 with 1:11 left. Kansas took a timeout to set up a play, and Florida State inserted Olejniczak into the lineup.
Late in the shot clock, the senior center got switched onto Dotson at the top of the key. The Kansas guard drove into the paint and tried to get all the way to the goal, but Olejniczak swatted his shot from behind — right into the arms of Polite, who was immediately fouled.
«I just made a play,» Olejniczak said. «That’s what this team is about. You get an opportunity, you go make a play. I’ve never made one that big before, but I was just doing my job. And credit to ‘Swatch’ for going to the other end and knocking down those free throws.»
Polite’s two free throws gave the Seminoles a two-possession lead with 46 seconds left. Kansas missed another shot at the other end, Vassell grabbed the rebound, made both free throws as well, and the Seminoles were on their way to the national championship game.
«I’m really happy for Leonard,» Self said. «If I was going to lose by four points in a Final Four game, I would want it to be to his team. They play the right way. They really do. Even the Wilkes kid. He says some crazy stuff, for sure. Like, he came over to our bench twice during the game and said that he was the real ‘Self-help guru.’ I don’t even know that that means. But he still plays the right way.
«They all do. The Williams kid is legit. Vassell is terrific. Forrest is just so composed. And then someone like Gray steps back and drills the biggest shot of the game. They’re a great team. They deserve this. I’ll be rooting for them on Monday night.»
Said Hamilton: «We’re not ready to take any bows yet. I don’t think they let you cut down the net for finishing in second, so we know we’ve got some work to do to get ready for the title game. But I think we showed everyone we weren’t just little old Florida State that was happy to be in the Final Four. We belong. And we’re here to win it.»
To do that, the ‘Noles will have to beat Louisville for a third time this season.
The Cardinals have won their five NCAA Tournament games by an average of 13 points. In Saturday’s win over Gonzaga, leading scorer Jordan Nwora had 33 points and 9 rebounds.
«It’s good to see Nwora playing so well after Trent sent him to TMH a few weeks ago,» Wilkes said.
«We don’t like them. They don’t like us,» added Gray. «Monday night is going to be a lot of fun.»
About this story
It was the best regular season in school history, and one that was punctuated with an ACC Championship and a No. 4 national ranking heading into the postseason.
Which is what made what happened next so frustrating and heartbreaking.
With the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, Florida State’s players, coaches and fans will never get to know just how far the Seminoles would’ve gotten.
Would more nets have been cut down? Would another trophy have been hoisted? Would Trent Forrest and the boys have had any more heroics left in them?
Well, it’s time we find out … with Warchant’s 2020 What Could Have Been NCAA Tournament?
Here’s the recap of FSU’s first-round win over Belmont, and this is how the Seminoles knocked off LSU in the second round. In the Sweet 16, the Seminoles rallied from a huge deficit to knock off Maryland. Then they dropped Ohio State in the Elite Eight.