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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Okaro White and his Florida State men's basketball teammates are headed back to New York after surviving the longest 40 seconds of the season to claim a spot in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals with a 78-75 win over Louisiana Tech.
Despite leading 76-68 with 40 seconds remaining, the Seminoles and their raucous Donald L. Tucker Center crowd were unable to exhale until Raheem Appleby's 3-pointer from the corner caromed off the front of the rim as the horn sounded.
"Everything just stopped," FSU sophomore swingman Montay Brandon said, describing the final seconds. "It was definitely like a roller coaster out there. We kept thinking the game was over and they just kept fighting back."
The Seminoles (22-13) had just enough fight, and good fortune, to find their way back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 1997 and fulfill their mission. They will meet Minnesota Tuesday night in a rematch of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge game won by the Gophers early in the season.
And no Seminole is happier than White, who was born in Brooklyn and lived on Long Island until he was 11. White was off to a monster start in his home finale before picking up his third and fourth fouls just four minutes into the second half.
White scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, despite playing just 22 minutes. The Seminoles were trailing 45-44 when White headed to the bench with 15:57 and quickly saw that deficit grow to 51-44.
That's when the Seminole sophomores, led by Aaron Thomas, Boris Bojanovsky and Brandon - with modest but important contributions from senior Ian Miller - came to the rescue. Thomas scored nine of his game-high 21 points in a four-minute stretch as the Seminoles went on a 15-7 run. It was Thomas' 3-pointer with 9:38 remaining that gave the `Noles a 59-58 edge.
Smith (16 points) countered with an uncontested layup, but Brandon forged a 60-60 deadlock by making the second of two free throw attempts. Miller's lone 3-pointer of the game with 7:17 remaining gave the Seminoles a 63-60 lead they never relinquished.