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Nov. 26, 1997

Florida State Advances to NIT Finals

Kerry Thompson
Kerry Thompson led FSU with 13 points. (File photo)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Freshman center Karim Shabazz scored seven of his 10 points in a first-half run that bridged the first and second quarters as 25th-rankd Florida State stunned number 11 Connecticut, 67-60, to advance to the championship game of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kerry Thompson scored 13 points for the Seminoles (4-0), who will play the winner of the Kansas-Arizona State game in the championship on Friday. Florida State leads the all-time series, 4-2.

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points and Kevin Freeman added 15 for Connecticut, which could not avenge a loss to the Seminoles in the semifinals of last season's NIT here. The Huskies will play the loser of tonight's nightcap for third place.

After Connecticut raced to a 5-0 lead in the first 1:56 of the game, Shabazz -- a native of Queens, New York making his first collegiate start -- ended the Seminoles scoring drought. He converted a three-point play with 5:25 left in the first quarter, triggering a 22-4 run that stretched into the second quarter.

After Ron Hale had two baskets around one by Moore to tie the game, Florida State reeled off nine straight points. Corey Louis had one free throw before Terrell Baker had a bucket and two foul shots to make it 12-7 with 1:51 left in the first quarter.

Randell Jackson had a layup before Kerry Thompson stripped Khalid El-Amin of the ball and raced for a layup to make it 16-7 with 18 seconds left in the quarter. Kevin Freeman hit two free throws with five-tenths of a second left for the Huskies, but Shabazz grabbed an offensive rebound and scored before adding two foul shots in the first 35 seconds of the second quarter to make it 20-9.

"Coach (Steve Robinson) says you never know when you'll be called upon," said Shabazz. "If we do what he says, we'll have a chance to win the game."

A seven-foot turnaround jumper by Jackson capped the run, giving the Seminoles a 22-9 bulge with 7:24 to play in the half.

Connecticut finally snapped out of its funk when Hamilton scored on a layup 10 seconds later, starting a 14-5 burst that drew the Huskies within 27-23. But Thompson had a layup and Greer added three free throws around a dunk by Freeman to push Florida State ahead 32-25 at halftime.

The pro-Connecticut crowd finally got into the game in the second half as Hamilton buried a pair of three-pointers in an 8-2 run that drew the Huskies within 34-33 with 8:20 to go in the third quarter. But Shabazz had three free throws in an 8-2 spurt for Florida State that pushed the lead back to 42-35 after a free throw by Thompson at the 5:17 mark.

Connecticut made one last push in the fourth quarter, drawing within 59-57 aftrer El-Amin hit a three-pointer with 2:23 to play. But Corey Louis threw down a dunk and Lamarr Greer buried a three-pointer from the left corner with 81 seconds to play to bump the margin back to seven.

"Half the bench said to pull it back out," admitted Seminoles coach Steve Robinson. "But he (Greer) is a senior, playing in front of his hometown, and he stepped up and made it. I don't think we could've got a higher-percentage shot."

Florida State shot 39 percent (22-of-56) from the field and had 19 second-chance points and 12 blocked shots -- three apiece from Shabazz, Louis and Jackson.

The Huskies shot 31 percent (20-of-63). El-Amin was 3-of-18 from the floor and finished with 10 points.

"When we have five guys who defend, we'll be a better team," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun. "I thought FSU did a great job today attacking our weakness, which is not passing the ball to each other. We couldn't get a flow."

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