Greensboro, NC--- For more than 28 minutes, the FSU Women's basketball team could almost taste the first Final Four in program history. The Noles had to play practically a road game in Greensboro in front of 6,000 excited South Carolina fans. Still the Seminoles grabbed more rebounds and took more shots than USC, and they protected the ball and limiting turnovers.
It was almost enough to stun the Gamecocks and the 6,000 fans that came to see them. Almost.
Tiffany Mitchell, the Southeastern Conference’s most valuable player, scored 21 points, including a backbreaking late 3-pointer, that lifted South Carolina past FSU, 80-74, and into the school’s first Final Four.
The Seminoles end their season 32-5 after setting a school record for the most wins in a season.
“It feels like they took from us something that belonged to us,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “But somebody had to take it from somebody.
“And, ultimately, they made the plays down the stretch.”
Leticia Romero led FSU with 13 points and seven rebounds and Adut Bulgak added 11 points and six boards for FSU, which was playing in the Elite Eight for the second time in program history.
Romero and Bulgak were each named to the Greensboro All-Region team.
“I think it’s better that we did the things that we wanted to,” Semrau said. “Does it hurt worse? Probably. I’m not mad at the way we performed. I’m angry with the circumstances.
The Seminoles led 67-65 with 3:03 to go, but were undone by a 3-for-12 cold streak over the last 8:23 of the game.
USC, meanwhile, could hardly miss. The Gamecocks at one points made 11 straight shots in the first half and went into the break having made 14 of its last 15.
Still, the Seminoles went into the locker room with a lead.
And they did it while one of their key contributors mostly watched from the bench.
Maegan Conwright, a fifth-year senior who averages 30.1 minutes and 11.5 points per game, picked up two quick fouls and played only six minutes in the first half.
Officials then tagged her with fouls three and four less than five minutes into the second, and she finished with just seven points in 18 minutes.
“I was just stunned,” Semrau said. “I think our kids were stunned. When you’re playing – it was so tough playing without Maegan. ... I can’t quantify it.”
With Conwright sidelined, FSU got strong efforts from Brittany Brown (12 points), Ivey Slaughter (eight points, seven rebounds) and Emiah Bingley (eight points, five rebounds).
But every time the Seminoles seemed to take control, the Gamecocks came charging back.
They took their first lead at the six-minute mark and, after trading punches down the stretch, opened up a five-point lead after Mitchell hit a 3-pointer in the corner with 1:20 left in the game .
It was one of just two USC 3-pointers.
“She was tough to guard,” Romero said. “…That (3-pointer) was pretty tough for us.”
A miss from Mitchell gave FSU a window to tie the game, but Bulgak couldn’t hang on to the rebound and Mitchell then made two foul shots that pushed the lead to 64-59.
“That was probably the worst moment of my life,” Bulgak said, fighting back tears at the postgame press conference. “The ball was right there, at the tip of my fingers, and I should’ve got it.”
Semrau then interjected, “She gets quite a few.”
The Seminoles rallied late with a 3-pointer by Bulgak and a layup from Romero, but USC’s Asia Dozier made four straight free throws to seal the win.
FSU finished having shot 42.4 percent from the field and made eight of 16 3-point attempts. They held a 33-28 rebounding advantage, made 16 of 21 from the free throw line and posted more assists (13) than turnovers (12).
It was everything Semrau could ask for. Except for the final score.
“I’m proud of them,” Semrau said. “I just wish we had that rhythm that we didn’t have.”
No one in the Florida State locker room felt much like reflection after the game. Not after coming so close to reaching their goals.
But Brown, a sophomore, said she could appreciate everything the Seminoles achieved this season.
“We made history and it was just fun,” she said. “This is one my favorite years of playing basketball. I love these girls. I love this coaching staff from (graduate assistants) to scout (team) boys.
“I’ll remember this forever. It was a great moment.”