- Associated Press - Friday, March 16, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida State beat North Carolina twice this season. Did the same to Duke, too.

The Seminoles were a trendy Final Four pick entering the NCAA tournament, and they were nearly sent home by little St. Bonaventure in their opening game.

Bernard James scored 19 points and Florida State barely avoided a big upset, rallying to beat the 14th-seeded Bonnies 66-63 on Friday in a game that left the Seminoles physically and mentally spent.

“That was one of the toughest games we’ve played all season, and that’s all the credit to their team,” Florida State senior Luke Loucks said. “They came out first swinging, and we really didn’t hit back until about 10 minutes to go in the second half. Again, all the credit to them, we really, really had to fight to win that game.”

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton cautioned against thinking his Seminoles took St. Bonaventure lightly. Not with NBA prospect Andrew Nicholson on the roster.

“They were well prepared. They’re loaded with talent. They executed very well,” Hamilton said. “We’re very fortunate to come away with the victory. They won their league. Some teams from the Atlantic 10 have done really well in the NCAA tournament.”

The third-seeded Seminoles (25-9) shook off a slow start and won their sixth straight game, including their run to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship last week. They will play sixth-seeded Cincinnati on Sunday in the third round of the East Regional.

“We just kept saying over and over again we don’t want to go home,” Loucks said. “We don’t want to watch the rest of this tournament from our couches. In the midst of that, B.J. kept screaming at me, ‘Get me the ball. I’m going to finish.’ When a 6-foot-10 … Air Force vet is screaming at you, you listen.”

James scored 11 in the second half, perhaps none bigger than his dunk off a missed fast-break layup by Loucks that tied it at 52.

The 27-year-old senior forward said he thought Loucks would lob the ball to him, so he kept running.

“I chased it down and was able to dunk it,” James said. “I think that was a pretty big momentum swing for us.”

Nicholson scored 20 points and Demetrius Conger had 14 for St. Bonaventure (20-12), which was trying to win an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1970.

“We didn’t come here to get moral victories,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We wanted to win. I am as proud of our guys as I’ve ever been with the team that I’ve coached. They’ve done everything we’ve asked. They fought. We just came up a bucket short.”

Florida State used a 16-2 run to take its first lead with 5:15 left on a 3-pointer by Ian Miller. The Seminoles led as much as 60-52 on a dunk by Okaro White with 2:47 left.

The Bonnies hit three 3-pointers in the final 1:43 to stay close. They had the ball down by three in the closing seconds but couldn’t get a decent look from beyond the arc. Da’Quan Cook had his short jumper blocked by White, and the Seminoles ran out the clock for a huge sigh of relief.

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