'Noles prove they belong at the top

To their credit, the Seminoles did not do a bunch of celebrating after shocking Duke on Saturday. There was still a lot of work left to be done, like upsetting North Carolina on Sunday.

They had been there before.

Back in 2009, the Semonoles upset North Carolina en route to facing Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game.

The stage was set for Florida State to make history and show that it belonged in the same conversation as the aforementioned story-filled programs.

However, the 'Noles couldn't complete the mission. They fell 79-69 in the final, and the Blue Devils would once again celebrate another ACC championship.

Garnet-and-gold supporters were left to wonder when this program would get another chance, when this school would have another opportunity to prove that it is no longer the third best team in the league and indeed in the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

After defeating Duke in the semifinal of this year's tournament, the ‘Noles were once again in position to capture a title and show the nation that they are as good as they think they are.

This time, they were not to be denied.

FSU defeated the Tar Heels of North Carolina 85-82 on Sunday in a game that was every bit as good as the score indicates. There were heart-stopping moments and times when it appeared UNC would once again show its supremacy.

However, Florida State never wilted when the Heels made their runs, each time responding with a big shot of its own and making everyone a believer. A final prayer from North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston was not answered, and the Seminoles could celebrate a conference tournament championship for the first time in school history.

"It's a great accomplishment just because their history is so rich," said Luke Loucks. "Not only to beat them, but to have an opportunity to play those teams on this stage and in this game was really important to us."

To just have an opportunity is no longer the culture at Florida State.

These kids have changed the mentality of Seminole fans across the state, country and world. A chance to win isn't enough, and you could see that in the eyes of the men in uniform following their victory over Duke on Saturday.

In past years, beating the Blue Devils would have sent many into a frenzy. It would have seemed like an upset of epic proportions, one that should be celebrated.

But you didn't see that portrayed on the court. There were no big smiles, no plans for a parade.

There was still more to be done.

The Seminoles successfully completed a Tobacco Road sweep on back-to-back days, and the conference title now resides in Tallahassee for the first time.

Michael Snaer led the ‘Noles with 18 points and hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Still, this win was a team effort, and most everyone stepped up when needed. Loucks added 10 points and 13 assists, and Deividas Dulkys hit two clutch free-throws to put FSU up three with less than four seconds remaining in the game. The 'Noles shot 59 percent collectively from the field.

"This is significant in the history of Florida State basketball, and we want to continue to keep building on it," said coach Leonard Hamilton.

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The ‘Noles will try to keep building momentum as they prepare for the NCAA Tournament. With the victory over UNC, Florida State has been able to improve its standing with the selection committee and received a No. 3 seed in the East region. It will face the No. 14 seed St. Bonaventure in the first round Friday.

The Bonnies earned their tournament bid by defeating Xavier to capture the Atlantic 10 Tournament title for the first time.

Both teams enter the tournament with momentum, and each is playing at an extremely high level.

For Florida State, it has established itself as a contender and a program to be feared. It will now be up to this special group of Seminoles to make the 2011-12 season even more special.

"We need to go into the NCAA tournament," Hamilton demanded, "and we need to represent."

Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.

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