INDIANAPOLIS — RaiQuan Gray scored 17 points and No. 4 seed Florida State began what it hopes will be another deep NCAA Tournament run under coach Leonard Hamilton, holding off 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro 64-54 in the East Region on Saturday.
The Seminoles, who reached the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 in the previous two tournaments, allowed the Spartans to hang around deep into the second half thanks to an uneven offensive performance. They will play Colorado in the second round on Monday.
Hamilton, who was rewarded earlier this month with a four-year contract extension, worked the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered before the tournament began.
“My guys depend on me,” Hamilton said. “If I’m going to ask them to work hard and challenge themselves, I’m going to have to do the same thing to some degree. To be very honest with you, I didn’t even know I had the boot on once the game started. It’s a nuisance. It’s a challenge, but there are more important things than worrying about me having a little pain.”
The Seminoles were impressed with the resilience of their 72-year-old coach.
“He’s a tough guy,” Gray said. “He instills toughness in us. He doesn’t like to complain about anything or let little things bother him. He’s walking around as if he’s healthy 100%. Regardless of how he’s feeling, he’s going to show up every day and be the same coach and be that leader for us. We lean on that a lot. Seeing him walking around in that boot is extra motivation.”
Florida State went 0 for 9 from 3-point range, winning a game without a made 3 for the first time since February 2018. The Seminoles still managed to shoot 52% overall.
“I think we just took what the defense gave us,” Gray said. “We knew that we had a height advantage and strength advantage on those guys. We didn’t want to settle for jump shots.”
The Spartans closed within 51-50 with 4:52 remaining, but Florida State held them scoreless for nearly four minutes after that. Socially distanced Florida State fans saluted players with the tomahawk chop as they left the court.
Balsa Koprivica had 13 points and nine rebounds and Anthony Polite added 12 points for the Seminoles.
Isaiah Miller scored 17 points and Keyshaun Langley added 16 for the Spartans (21-9), which were seeking its first tournament win. UNCG shot 32% overall as Florida State allowed a season-low point total.
“They are really difficult to prepare for,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “They play a style of play that we haven’t seen all year with some length and athleticism and depth that we haven’t seen all year.”
Coach Wes Miller also praised Isaiah Miller — a senior who is the two-time reigning Southern Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year — and his growth during his time with the Spartans.
“His freshman year, we would never play him at point guard,” the coach said. “We wouldn’t even think about it because he couldn’t make good decisions and couldn’t handle with his left hand. He couldn’t finish with his left hand. We told him he wasn’t allowed to shoot jump shots. And every year, he’s just added to his game and added something or multiple things to become a better player. So he’s improved in every way.”
Florida State rolled out to a 13-2 lead as UNCG missed nine of its first 10 shots.
Koprivica went up high for a two-handed alley-oop jam on an assist from M.J. Walker that put the Seminoles up 15-4.
UNCG started to settle down later in the first half. The 6-foot Miller dunked off an inbounds lob from the baseline to cut Florida State’s advantage to 25-18.
Langley was fouled on a deep made 3-pointer from straight away, and his free throw with 36 seconds left in the half trimmed Florida State’s edge to 29-26.
Langley’s 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the second half tied the game at 29, but Florida State responded with a 12-0 run.
The Spartans surged again. A pair of free throws by Miller cut Florida State’s lead to one point, but two quick baskets by Gray got the Seminoles back on track.