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March 13, 2008Box Score
CHARLOTTE, N.C. ? As he answered a seemingly endless string of reporters' questions early Thursday afternoon, Jason Rich had one thing on his mind.
Not celebrating Florida State's 70-60 victory against Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament. Not preparing for a second-round showdown with No. 1 North Carolina ? a game that could mean the difference between an appearance in the NCAA tournament or a return trip to the NIT.
No, Rich could only muster enough energy for one thing ? making his way to a cold whirlpool bath to soothe the muscles that carried him to a brilliant 22-point performance and pushed the Seminoles closer to a goal that seemed unreachable just a month ago.
"We kept feeding him the ball," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said of his star senior, "and he came through for us."
Indeed, he did. Again and again.
With Florida State clinging to a three-point lead midway through the second half, Rich went on a scoring binge that was as impressive for its diversity as its effectiveness. He scored from the free-throw line, he scored inside, he scored from the perimeter.
By the end of the stretch, which lasted nearly six minutes, Rich had scored 16 of the Seminoles' 18 points. He single-handedly outscored Wake Forest by five points during the run; and when it was over, the Seminoles (19-13) had raced out to a comfortable 10-point lead.
"He was feeling it," junior point guard Toney Douglas said. "Any time a player's feeling it like that, you've got to give him the ball no matter what."
Wake Forest (17-13) actually did a good job of keeping Rich bottled up in the first half. By sagging defensively on the perimeter and relying on shot-blockers James Johnson and Chas McFarland to patrol the paint, the Demon Deacons held Rich to four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
But a halftime adjustment by Florida State's coaching staff paid off, as Rich stopped forcing the ball inside and instead focused on his jump shot.
"They were doing a good job of packing the lane, and Coach was telling me to just get to the elbow and trust your shot," Rich said.
Wake Forest tried using an assortment of players to slow Rich down, with forwards L.D. Williams and James Johnson shouldering much of the load. But nothing the Deacons tried worked in the second half.
"He was hitting some tough shots," Wake guard Ishmael Smith said. "There wasn't one person who could stop him. He really just took his team and put them on his back."
Said Deacons coach Dino Gaudio: "Down the stretch, he was the difference in the game. We played multiple defenses, but we still had a hard time."
Florida State also received strong performances from forward Ryan Reid (12 points, 7 rebounds) and guard Ralph Mims (16 points, 4 assists). But every player who spoke with the media acknowledged that the Seminoles couldn't have won without Rich's heroics.
When the post-game interviews were wrapping up and before he could head for that cold bath, Rich was asked why the Seminoles seemed nearly emotionless following the victory. There were no celebrations. Hardly even one high-five.
"Who wants to win one game and then do nothing else after that?" Rich said. "You're only as good as your last game."
If that's the case, then Rich is in a pretty good place.