Photo courtesy of NoleFan.org
Under Leonard Hamilton, Florida State basketball has twice been able to call itself champions of the ACC.
The Seminoles are the reigning conference champion after winning their first title in 2012. FSU has been a member of the ACC since the 1991-92 season.
Prior to that, FSU was a member of the Metro Collegiate Athletic Conference. It won its only Metro title on this day 30 years ago as the Seminoles rallied from 20 points down in the second half to top Louisville, 76-69.
Setting the Stage
FSU was the hottest team in the Metro as it arrived at the Roanoke Civic Center on March 9, 1991. The Seminoles had won six straight games and at 19-10, were looking for their 20th win of the season.
FSU had finished second in the Metro and won by double digits over South Carolina and Virginia Tech to reach the final. It was FSU’s sixth trip to the Metro Championship, but the Seminoles had lost the previous five.
Louisville finished dead last in the conference during the regular season, but found its footing in the Metro Tournament. After upsetting top-seeded Southern Mississippi, the Cardinals advanced to the final with a hard-fought 72-70 win over Memphis. Needing only a win to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, things couldn’t have started much better for Louisville.
Back Come the Seminoles
For a half, things looked bleak for FSU. The Seminoles had trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half and were on the short end of a 45-34 score at the break. At the under-16-minute timeout in the second half, the Cardinals had increased their lead to 56-36.
That’s when the FSU defense would make a stand. Louisville managed just 13 points over the final 17 minutes and change.
Fresh out of the timeout, back-to-back baskets by Doug Edwards ignited a 13-2 run as the Seminoles cut the lead to single digits. The Cardinals would push it back to 10 with less than nine minutes to play, but FSU had more fight left in it.
The Seminoles scratched and clawed to cut the lead to four with less than three minutes to play. After Louisville guard Everick Sullivan split a pair of free throws with to push the lead to five with 2:42 remaining, the Cardinals never scored again. FSU proceeded to close the game on a 12-0 run.
Following a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, Chuck Graham finally drew FSU even with a pair of free throws with just 1:30 to play. Louisville’s LaBradford Smith proceeded to miss on the other end. FSU’s Charlie Ward grabbed the rebound and proceeded to knock down a long 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to put his team ahead for good, 72-69, with 23 seconds remaining.
Needing a trey to draw even, Louisville couldn’t even get up a shot. A turnover led to an intentional foul and Edwards knocked down both free throws to make it a 2-possession game with three seconds left. FSU’s Jesse Salters scored to put the exclamation point on the win.
For FSU, the last lead of the first half came on a Ward jumper four minutes in. The contest was tied at 13 before a 24-11 run allowed the Cardinals to seize early momentum.
The free throw line was key to the FSU comeback. Florida State shot 15-for-17 from the charity stripe in the second half while Louisville went just 5-for-9. The Cardinals managed just four field goals over the final 17:08.
Smith led the Cardinals and all scorers with 26 points in the loss. Sullivan added 16.
Edwards led the way for the Seminoles with 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Ward finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. Aubry Boyd added 10 points in the victory.
Louisville’s remarkable Metro Tournament run ended, leaving the Cardinals with a 14-16 record for the season. Under legendary head coach Denny Crum, Louisville missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years, but would go on to make the dance in each of the following six.
For head coach Pat Kennedy and FSU, it would go on to beat USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles would ultimately fall in the second round to No. 2 seed Indiana.
The following season, FSU would leave the Metro for the ACC. Its final game against Metro competition as a member of the conference resulted in Florida State cutting down the nets for the only time. It happened on this day three decades ago.