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January 3, 2007

Seminoles fall just short in ACC debut

When the bright lights of the big-time games shine on the Florida State men's basketball team, it still needs to learn not to falter under their heat, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said.

The Seminoles got another lesson in big-game performance Wednesday night, as Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds scored a lay-up with less than three seconds to go to give the 18th-ranked Tigers a 68-66 win over FSU at the Tucker Center.

The loss snapped Florida State's eight-game winning streak and gave the Seminoles their third loss in four tries against ranked teams. FSU (12-3, 0-1 ACC) beat Florida in Tallahassee, but lost to both Wisconsin and Pittsburgh on the road.

"I just think we were a little too hyper, a little overanxious," Hamilton said. "I don't think it's a lack of ability. We just need to learn to get in the right frame of mind to play in a game like this of importance, to understand that every possession is important. I think that's where we faltered."

Hammonds, a native of nearby Cairo, Ga., had no problem staying strong in the final seconds. He erased Florida State's first lead since the first basket with a late 3-pointer, and it was his lay-up that won the game.

Before becoming Clemson's hero, Hammonds nearly became the goat. He missed his only free throw attempt of the game with about 34 seconds left in the game, which allowed the Seminoles to tie the game at 66. Freshman Ryan Reid put back a short Toney Douglas 3-point attempt.

On the ensuing inbounds pass, Vernon Hamilton handed the ball off to James Mays on the baseline, and Mays lofted the ball back to Hamilton as he sprinted down the left side. Hamilton got the ball to Hammonds, who put the ball over Jason Rich and Al Thornton for the winning score.

"We ran the same play twice," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We just changed the position of the players the second time and ran it to perfection."

But Hamilton cautioned that the final play did not completely decide the game. The loss, he said, came from Florida State's performance over both halves.

From the opening tip, the Seminoles had trouble adjusting to Clemson's physical style. The league leader in offensive rebounds, Clemson (15-0, 1-0 ACC) pulled down 12 offensive boards in the first half to Florida State's five.

"I thought we were in good position in the first half," Hamilton said. "I don't think we went after it very aggressively."

Florida State fixed that problem in the second half, but its shooting percentage plummeted. After shooting 53.6 percent in the first half, the Seminoles shot 36.4 percent in the second half, hitting only eight of 22 shots. Free throw shooting the Seminoles hit 16 free throws to Clemson's two kept them in the game.

But turnovers kept FSU from winning. Florida State committed 21 against the Tigers, tied for their second-worst total this season (21 versus Wisconsin and 27 versus Illinois State). The Tigers scored 25 points off those turnovers and 40 in the paint.

Those problems come down to executing the little things, FSU senior Al Thornton said. That's something the Seminoles will have to work on before Saturday's game at second-ranked North Carolina.

"It's very frustrating because we understand it and know how to take care of it," he said. "But the positive is that it's easily correctable."

Thornton led the Seminoles with 19 points and six rebounds. Junior Isaiah Swann added 13 points and junior Jason Rich added 12. Hamilton, who hit eight of 11 shots, led Clemson with 19 points, while KC Rivers added 16 and Mays added 14.

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