Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates (34) defends against Florida State forward Bernard James (5).
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NASHVILLE — The Cincinnati Bearcats are making it an Ohio party in the NCAA tournament, giving the Buckeye State four teams in the final 16.
Dion Dixon stole the ball and dunked to put Cincinnati ahead for good with 1:32 left, and the Bearcats edged out Florida State 62-56 Sunday night to reach their first regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament since 2001.
Cincinnati (26-10) will play No. 2 seed Ohio State in Boston on Thursday night in the East, joining Xavier and Ohio in the second weekend.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 18 points, Dixon finished with 15 for Cincinnati. Yancy Gates finished with 10, and JaQuon Parker grabbed 11 rebounds.
Florida State (25-10) snapped a six-game winning streak that took the Seminoles to their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title. But the ‘Noles are heading home short of the regional semifinal they reached a year ago.
Luke Loucks led the Seminoles with 14, Bernard James had 11 and Michael Snaer 11.
This game featured 19 lead changes and 11 ties, and neither team led by more than three in the second half until the Bearcats scored seven straight points. Kilpatrick hit a free throw tying it up at 50, then Dixon stole the ball from Loucks in front of the Cincinnati bench as Florida State tried to bring the ball up against the Bearcats’ press. Dixon took off and slammed down the lead.
Cashmere Wright hit a jumper, and Gates added two free throws for 56-50 lead with 35.3 seconds left. The Bearcats sealed it by hitting all eight free throws in the final 35.3 seconds.
The Seminoles led 29-28 at halftime and were up by five in the first half. But a Florida State team that came into the NCAA tournament sixth in Division I holding opponents to 38.1 percent shooting couldn’t stop Cincinnati in the second half. The Bearcats hit 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) overall and 12 of 13 at the free throw line. Cincinnati had a big edge at the line (19 of 23) overall compared to Florida State (12 of 15).
Florida State had trouble holding onto the ball, too, with 13 of its 17 turnovers coming on steals by Cincinnati. The Bearcats turned those into 19 points.
Cincinnati said before the game that Florida State would fit right in the Big East with its stingy defense, and this game looked just like a conference battle.
Florida State last led 50-49 on a pair of free throws by Loucks with 2:09 left on Gates’ fourth personal of the game. That’s when the Bearcats took over.
The first half gave a glimpse of what the final 20 minutes would be.
Snaer hit back-to-back 3s within the first three minutes after the Seminoles’ leading scorer was shut out in their opening win over St. Bonaventure. Snaer missed on a couple of air balls, but he still had nine points by halftime.
But Snaer missed a 3 with 12 seconds left, and Ian Miller missed a 3, too. Okaro White also missed beyond the arc — all three misses coming in the final 37 seconds.
Florida State led 26-25 at halftime largely thanks to a quick six points keyed by senior Deividas Dulkys. The guard from Lithuania hit a 3-pointer, then had a pair of steals. White, who hit a free throw in the mini-spurt, failed to score off Dulkys’ first steal. So Dulkys stole the ball from Cincinnati freshman Jermaine Sanders and went down for the dunk and a 23-18 lead with 5:20 left that matched the Seminoles’ largest lead of the game.
But Kilpatrick answered with a 3-pointer with the Bearcats hitting four free throws down the stretch to pull Florida State back in.