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March 17, 2006Box Score
Deflated by being left out of the NCAA tournament, the Florida State basketball team recharged itself just in time to survive and advance in the postseason.
The Seminoles, who led for all but two possessions of Friday night's game, fought off a gritty Butler team to post a 67-63 victory in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.
"I just thought our players found a way to bounce back from the disappointment," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We haven't spent time dwelling on anything negative. Now we're in the NIT and we have to go about handling our business."
The Seminoles (20-9) now face South Carolina at home on Tuesday in the second round of the tourney - and they owe a round of thanks to junior forward Alexander Johnson for keeping their season alive.
Johnson, a 6-foot-9 low-post terror, scored five of FSU's final six points to rally the Seminoles in the final minutes. His put-back of a missed free throw by Ralph Mims with 18 seconds left provided the final scoring of the game.
Of course, Johnson had a little insider information when he saw Mims on the line. The two are partners during free throw drills in practice.
"When he misses, he always misses on the side or it rolls around and comes off on that side," Johnson said. "I'm thinking, 'Ralph's shooting this so I'm going to get on that block this time.' Usually I go back down the court. And he shot it and missed and it went right on that side."
Johnson's big plays capped an emotional night for the Seminoles, who were energized by a small but rambunctious crowd of 5,187 fans at the Tucker Center. He scored 20 points and added nine rebounds, but he wasn't the only star for FSU.
Sophomore guard Jason Rich scored a career high 22 points and Mims added four points, six assists and six rebounds in 28 minutes of play.
He was forced to handle the point guard duties after starter Todd Galloway twisted his ankle early in the first half.
"I thought Ralph made the difference in the game," Hamilton said.
FSU also got limited production from leading scorer Al Thornton, who did not practice this past week because of a lower back injury. He finished with seven rebounds but scored just five points (on five shots).
Butler (20-13) was led by Horizon League player of the year Brandon Polk (21 points, seven rebounds). The Bulldogs, ranked fourth nationally in three-point field goals, made just 8 of 37 attempts from long-range on Friday night.