For the second straight year, Louisiana Tech gave Florida State everything the Seminoles wanted on their home floor at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
However, unlike last season, the Bulldogs came up just short, falling to Florida State 78-75 before 4,470 fans in the quarterfinal round of the National Invitational Tournament.
After trailing 37-33 at the half, LA Tech turned up the defensive pressure over the final 20 minutes, turning turnovers into points and building as much as a 51-44 lead with 13:47 to play in the game on a driving layup by Kenyon McNeail.
Florida State made a run over the final 10 minutes, retook the lead and pushed it out to eight points with just 41 seconds to play. The Seminoles then withstood an unbelievably gutsy effort by these Bulldogs as the outcome wasn't decided until Raheem Appleby's three-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer bounced off the iron, ending a historical season for Mike White and Co.
The loss ended Tech's season at 29-8, tying the program single season record for wins. It also ended the college careers of four Bulldog seniors as Chris Anderson, Jaron Johnson, Cordarius Johnson and McNeail who were crucial components to putting the Bulldog basketball program back on the national map.
The final 60 seconds of the game were a roller coaster for both teams. With Florida State leading 73-68 and the shot clock running down, Seminoles guard Devon Bookert threw up a prayer from the top of the key over the outstretched hands of Kenneth Smith. The shot banked off the glass and through the net as the lead ballooned to eight with just 41 seconds remaining.
Although things looked bleak for Tech, the Bulldogs didn't fold. Kenneth Smith, who ended the night with 16 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and six assists, hit a driving layup with 33 seconds to play. Following a 1-of-2 free throw effort by Aaron Thomas pushed the lead to 77-70, Smith drew a foul and hit two free throws with 28 seconds left to close the gap to five.
Okaro White, who ended up with 20 points, hit 1-of-2 free throws with 22 seconds remaining as the Seminoles lead went back to 78-72. Appleby, who ended the night with nine points, connected on a three-pointer from the far corner with 18 seconds to play. The lead was down to one possession.
Following a jump ball that gave the basketball back to the Bulldogs, Appleby got a descent look at the tie from 20 feet that rimmed out as FSU pulled down the rebound with 4.4 seconds to play. However, Brandon Montay missed both free throws and Tech pushed the basketball into the front court where Appleby got one final look that wouldn't fall.
In addition to Smith's big night, Johnson scored 11 points while joining the 1,000-point club. Michale Kyser added 10 points and three rebounds in just 14 minutes before fouling out while McNeail scored 10 points. Anderson finished his college career with four points and three steals before also fouling out in just 16 minutes of action. Jaron Johnson scored six points in the loss.
For the game, Tech shot 36 percent (26-73) from the field, 7-of-25 from the three-point line and 16-of-18 from the free throw line. Florida State shot 45 percent (26-58) from the field, 7-of-12 from the three-point line and 19-of-26 from the free throw line. FSU outrebounded Tech 43-36.
Tech forced 15 turnovers by Florida State, including 11 in the second half. It marked the first time this year that Tech had forced 15 or more turnovers and lost (23-1).
Release provided by Louisiana Tech sports information department.