Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FSU's Road Goes to Starkville; A Trip to Madison Square Garden Awaits Tonight's Winner

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FSU's Road Goes to Starkville; A Trip to Madison Square Garden Awaits Tonight's Winner

Article excerpt

Byline: BOB THOMAS

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State's in-it-to-win-it approach to the 32-team National Invitation Tournament gets a road test tonight with a quarterfinal date at Mississippi State, one of four top seeds in the tournament.

The second-seeded Seminoles, who have labored on the road this season, must win at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss., in order to get to New York's Madison Square Garden.

"It's hard a place to play in," said FSU sophomore point guard Toney Douglas, who played in Starkville as a freshman at Auburn. "It's going to be loud."

Douglas remembers Mississippi State fans ringing cowbells, but like his teammates -- none of whom have ever played Madison Square Garden -- the lure of Manhattan's bright lights provides plenty motivation.

"We all know what we have to do to win and everybody is going to be accountable," said Douglas, who has helped guide the Seminoles to a 3-1 record since returning from a broken hand.

That run includes consecutive NIT victories over Toledo (77-61) and Michigan (87-66) at home -- two of the most balanced offensive performances of the season by Leonard Hamilton's team.

Mississippi State has been equally impressive with home routs of Mississippi Valley State (82-63) and Bradley (101-72). Likewise, the Bulldogs are also motivated by a trip to the Big Apple.

"Madison Square Garden is a special venue because of the media exposure you get playing in that arena," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "The opportunity to keep playing this time of year -- if you're fortunate enough to get there -- you're trying to play for a national championship in something, which is special itself."

FSU senior forward Al Thornton, entertained by Hamilton's stories about playing in the Garden, understands that his next loss will also be his last.

"Each and every game is important as we get down to the Garden," Thornton said. "I'm kind of realizing that. It hasn't quite hit me yet. I'm kind of living the moment, trying to soak it all in. ... Hopefully I can play three more games."

FSU junior Jason Rich (6-3) draws the assignment of trying to contain Mississippi State sophomore guard Jamont Gordon, whose skills belie his 6-foot-4, 225-point frame. …

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