The final game became the toughest loss for the Seminoles, who missed a chance to make back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.
But moments after the Mar. 18 loss to Cincinnati in Nashville, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was thinking about next year.
"There were a lot of positive things that happened this year that are going to set the tone for the direction of this program," he said. "We're specifically moving it forward and took a giant step in the right direction. I'm not going to allow myself to identify this year [with failure] because we lost this game. There's too many positives that I'm taking away."
The Seminoles' faithful and school officials were hoping Hamilton won't take away something to a new school. Rumors flew about Hamilton being a strong contender for the University of Illinois job. The media reports were conflicting about the interest in Hamilton and vice versa, but some type of proposal was made.
Provided he stays, the Seminoles, who finished 25-10, will try to reload the same way they did after the 2011 loss in the Sweet 16.
"Of course I wanted a national championship, but I couldn't ask for anything else," sophomore guard Ian Miller said. "The way we bonded, the way we came together. We were so disjointed at the beginning of the season. Just on the court, it was like we were just individuals. And then we snapped into it. We got tired of losing, we got tired of doing things the wrong way, and we came together. That's when you saw that we became brothers and started moving in the right way and became one of the best teams in the country."
More important, as Hamilton said, the Seminoles "changed the culture of basketball at FSU." There was a definite uptick in ticket sales, student interest and community perception about the future of the program.
NOTES AND QUOTES
The Seminoles have earned at least 20 wins for four consecutive seasons, a school record. Florida State has now appeared in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, the second-longest ongoing streak in the ACC. ...
Hamilton was named the Division I Coach of the Year in District 2 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The honor makes him eligible for national coach of the year honors. Prior to the ACC Tournament, he was chosen the ACC Coach of the Year for the second time, and he became the only man to win ACC coaching honors and Big East Conference coaching honors twice in each conference. The Big East honors came during his time at Miami. ...
Hamilton stayed tight-lipped, keeping with his personality, while rumors swirled for a few days about the Illinois coaching vacancy. The Chicago Tribune reported Hamilton was actively lobbying for the job. Florida State officials said Illinois never contacted them or asked permission to contact Hamilton.
FINAL RECORD: 25-10, 12-4, third place in the ACC.
2011-12 SEASON RECAP: Even with lofty preseason expectations, the Seminoles exceeded anyone's forecast by winning the ACC Tournament for the first time in school history and earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It matched the highest seeding in school history. By finishing third in the ACC with dramatic wins against North Carolina and Duke, the Seminoles raised the profile of their program.
If only the ending had been better. The Seminoles reverted back to past offensive woes in failing to make the Sweet 16, which put a damper on the entire body of work. The success of rival Florida in the NCAA Tournament didn't help matters with the fans.
Still, the Seminoles reached a new level for awareness, ticket sales and national perception.
But how this all happened for Florida State makes the achievement more noteworthy. On Jan. 7, following a 20-point road loss to Clemson in the ACC opener, the Seminoles were 9-6 and going nowhere. They had a soul-searching meeting that ignited motivation.
Their early-season schedule had gotten the best of them. First, they suffered through an anemic shooting performance in a loss to Harvard in a tournament in the Bahamas. The next day, they lost an overtime game to Connecticut. Four days later, on Nov. 30, they were blown out at Michigan State by 16 points in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Before the New Year began, they looked bad in a loss at Florida and in a triple-overtime home defeat to Princeton.
The Clemson loss continued the despair. But from that point, a changed team emerged. The backcourt got better, and Florida State recorded signature wins against the Tar Heels and Blue Devils. After a horrific effort in a road loss to Boston College, the Seminoles won their next three ACC games to seal an NCAA Tournament bid.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Now we're going to go back, evaluate everything, realize that we made some tremendous progress, and I thought last year at the end of the season that we would be better this year than we were last year, and I thought that we proved that we were. I'm just foolish enough to think that with what we have coming back and what I think is coming in, we're going to be a very good basketball team next year." -- Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on his outlook for the Seminoles in 2012-13.