Teamwork, stingy defense helps Florida State edge St. Bonaventure

Friday, March 16, 2012 at 9:23pm

Florida State guard Luke Loucks usually doesn’t turn down requests from teammate Bernard James, six years his senior. 

“As a point guard, when a 6-foot-10 Air Force veteran is screaming at you, you listen,” Loucks said.

Loucks followed James’ every command on Friday. Even when he didn’t intend to get the 27-year-old James the ball, the Seminoles senior found ways to score.

James scored two of his team-high 19 points on a game-tying putback slam after Loucks missed a transition layup to help No. 3 seed Florida State rally past No. 14 seed St. Bonaventure for a 66-63 victory in the opening round of the East Region in the NCAA Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.

Florida State (25-9) advances to play No. 11 Cincinnati (25-10) on Sunday.

James scored 11 points after halftime and was 8-of-11 from the field. His last points came when he trailed Loucks in transition. Loucks, who had 13 points and six assists, tried to convert a reverse layup on the left side of the backboard. It bounced off the rim but James was right there, grabbing the ball in mid-air and extending out for the slam.

“Our guards were kind of struggling a little bit with shooting, so I really needed to step up,” said James, who also grabbed nine rebounds. “I actually thought [Loucks] was going to lob the ball to me but that’s why I kept running but he went for the layup and he missed. I’m pretty good at reading my teammates off of what side of the rim the ball is going back off of. ... So I just chased it down and was able to dunk it.

“I think it was a pretty big momentum swing for us.”

The basket came with 6:57 left and pulled Florida State even for the first time. It was part of a 16-2 run that was capped off by Okaro White’s dunk for a 60-52 lead with 2:47 left.

St. Bonaventure (20-12), which reached its first NCAA Tournament in 12 years by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, scored the first seven points and led by as many as 10 in the first half. Center Andrew Nicholson’s game-high 20 points led the Bonnies, whose eight straight missed shots allowed Florida State to pull ahead.

St. Bonaventure still had a chance to pull off the upset when Loucks missed his second of two free throws with 22 seconds left. But the Bonnies never got a 3-pointer up, as Da’Quan Cook’s jumper with four seconds left missed. He grabbed the rebound, but instead of stepping outside, he put up another jumper, which was blocked by White and time ran out.

“They’re the fifth best defensive team in the country,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We were right there with them. There’s no negatives about this game. We lost. But we gave a great performance.”

• Cincinnati holds off Texas: Playing in the physical Big East, Cincinnati isn’t used to jumping out to big leads. Hence, the Bearcats felt more in their comfort zone after their 19-point advantage slipped away.

Two big buckets by senior forward Yancy Gates, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, broke the tie and propelled No. 6 seed Cincinnati to a 65-59 victory over No. 11 seed Texas in the opening round of the East Region.

“We’ve been in so many battles in the Big East over the last three or four years with these guys that I think it served us well,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We probably are more comfortable playing if it’s a close game. We don’t know how to play with those big leads.”

Texas (20-14) scored just two points in the opening 12 and a half minutes, missed 14 of its first 15 shots and didn’t make its second field goal until the 5:52 mark of the first half. Yet, the Longhorns slowly climbed back from a 19-point second-half deficit thanks to a game-high 19 points from J’Covan Brown. Jonathan Holmes’ putback tied the game at 52 with 3:46 to go.

A minute later, though, the 6-foot-9 Gates sunk a jump hook shot to put the Bearcats (25-10) back in front. After a driving layup by Cashmere Wright, Gates’ 17-foot jumper provided an insurmountable 60-54 cushion with 53 seconds left.

“On the jump shot, it was just confidence from even my teammates telling me to shoot it earlier in the game,” Gates said. “Early in the season I wouldn’t have shot that.”

Ohio gets the upset: D.J. Cooper scored 21 points and Ohio held Michigan scoreless fo the final 4:12 as the Bobcats, the No. 13 seed in the Midwest Region, held on for a 65-60 victory.

The Wolverines, the region’s No. 4 seed, got within three, 63-60, on a Trey Burke 3-pointer but missed their final five shots and lost for the ninth time in its last 12 NCAA tournament appearances.

After four early lead changes Ohio took control with a 15-2 run late in the first half. Cooper started the run with a 3-pointer, and Nick Kellogg ended it with one.

Trey Bruke led Michigan with 16 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 14, but the guards were a combined 10-for-29 from the floor. As a team the Wolverines shot 40.7 percent.

“We're playing our best basketball of the year, no doubt about that,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “I thought our ability to defend the 3 was going to be critical coming into the game.”

Bulls get defensive: Victor Rudd Jr. and Anthony Collins each scored 17 points and South Florida upset fifth-seeded Temple 58-44 despite the fact that it made just three field goals in the first half.

“Boy that was about as poor a first half as we've played all year long,'' South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “We went into halftime, I just thought, 'I can't believe we're only down five points' or whatever it was. I just knew there was no way. We may not shoot great, but we can't go 3-for-27 again.''

Temple shot a season-low 35.7 percent for the game and its leasing scorer coming in, Ramon Moore, was held to just five.

Even with its first-half struggles on offense, which included 22 straight missed shots at one point, South Florida trailed by just four, 19-15, at intermission. The Bulls hit six of their first eight after halftime and outscored Temple 43-25 over the final 20 minutes.