Hartford, CT- March Madness began in haste on Thursday afternoon. Of the early games, among the most interesting was the Florida State-Vermont match. Vermont defeated last year’s Cinderella UMBC to get into the tournament and was rewarded with a Tournament game only 233 miles away from Burlington, VT. Florida State, meanwhile, took the ACC titans to the limit before finally falling in the ACC Championship Game against Duke. They appeared primed for an upset in essentially a road building but used their talent and physicality to outlast the tough Catamounts in Hartford’s XL Center.
Despite surrendering anywhere from three inches to a full foot per position, UVM opened in attack mode. The Catamounts outrebounded the Seminoles 20-18 for the opening 20 minutes and played as FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton put, “More of an ACC Game than any non-conference game we’ve played this year. A very nip-and-tuck matchup.” UVM could not pull ahead at the break because of Mfiondou Kabengele’s half-high 7 points and 4 rebounds. The teams entered halftime knotted 27-27.
Florida State asserted its presence in the middle in the second half. Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann piling up 14 and 17 points respectively on no three-point attempts, a combined 15-18 from the free throw line, and a combined 11 of the team’s 21 rebounds in the second half. In all, Kabengele, a redshirt sophomore from Burlington, Ontario, ended with a game-high 21 points highlighted by a dunk through a triple team defense. Mann, a senior playing near his home of Lowell, MA, followed close behind with 19 points. No other Seminole accumulated more than 8 points. The two also led the way on the boards, with 10 and 8 respectively.
Vermont trailed by only four points with 5:54 left in the game after sophomore Stef Smith, of Ajax, Ontario, shot a three-ball; part of his 15 point effort. The Catamounts shot 50% from long range and had three additional double-digit scorers. Anthony Lamb scored a team-high 16 while Ernie Duncan and Ben Shungu joined Smith at 15.
Despite the urging of their fans and the balanced scoring, Vermont never got within a possession late. FSU ballooned the lead to as high as 13 in the final minute and concluded with a 76-69 victory.
Vermont’s season ends with a 27-7 record and the program’s ninth trip to the NCAA Tournament. Samuel Dingba, of Yaounde, Cameroon, and Ernie Duncan, the eldest of three Evansville, IN, brothers playing for John Becker in Burlington, are the only departing seniors. The remainder of the team returns for a chance to repeat atop American East and win three Conference Titles in four years.
Florida State improves to 28-7. The win sets a record for the most for a single season in program history. Leonard Hamilton was not concerned with that milestone in the slightest.
“In order to get to the Final Four, you got to win the next game, and that’s why I want to stay focused correctly. If I start looking too far ahead, then I won’t take advantage of what I can control.”
Senior David Nichols was injured late in the game on a loose ball play. No update was available after the game.
The 4th Seminoles face Ja Morante and the 12th seeded Murray State Racers on Saturday in Round Two of the NCAA Tournament. Tip off at the XL Center in Hartford, CT, is scheduled for 6:10 PM.