CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The magical tournament tour of Western Kentucky has ended on a low note.
The Hilltoppers' bid to spring another upset expired when Cypheus Bunton's three-point attempt to tie bounded high off the rim, hit it again and then bounced off at the buzzer, sealing Florida State's 81-78, overtime victory in the NCAA Southeast Regional at the Charlotte Coliseum last night.
It was a crusher for Western Kentucky (26-6), which outplayed the favored Seminoles for much of the game, but couldn't overcome the loss of its two senior stars, Darnell Mee and Mark Bell, on fouls.
Florida State, which will face Kentucky in the regional final tomorrow, did its best to keep the Hilltoppers alive, missing 16 of 29 free throws after halftime.
But when Bell fouled out with 53.9 seconds left in the extra period on a tough charging call and Charlie Ward converted the free throws to put Florida State up 80-76, it became an uphill battle for the Hilltoppers.
"We're not allowed to comment on calls, and I didn't really see the play. All I can say is that it was a tough way to lose a basketball game," Western Kentucky coach Ralph Willard said of Bell's fifth foul.
"I knew he had four [fouls] and he was coming down a little fast," said Ward. "I wanted to step in and draw the charge. I came up lucky."
A rebound basket by Darius Hall got the Hilltoppers back to within two, and they received their first chance to tie when Florida State's Rodney Dobard was called for traveling seconds later.
Then freshman Michael Fraliex, Bell's replacement at point guard, committed a turnover trying to get the ball to Hall inside, and Derrick Carroll followed with a foul shot for Florida State for the final margin.
Willard wanted a three-point shot by Darrin Horn after Dobard's travel, but Sam Cassell (Dunbar) flicked the ball and disrupted the play.
"I wanted the three to win the game," said the coach. "With Darnell and Mark out, going to another overtime wasn't going to do us any good."
Florida State (25-9) felt fortunate to be advancing to the final eight for the first time since 1972, when it lost to UCLA for the national championship.
Western Kentucky led most of the second half in a duel of spread offenses, as both teams sought to offset the other's defensive quickness and Willard tried to counteract Florida State's athleticism.
"They controlled the tempo against a really sound half-court team [Seton Hall], and they controlled it tonight against a much quicker team," Seminoles coach Pat Kennedy said of his opponents. "They make you chase them a lot with that motion offense, and that might have made us a little tired on our foul shots."
"Our club has been through so much this year," said Cassell, referring to its injuries. "I didn't want this to be our last game. It wasn't pretty, but we played hard and pulled it out. And we had some luck."
A follow shot by Western Kentucky's Chris Robinson tied the score at 69 with 35 seconds left and forced the overtime. Cassell had the last attempt for Florida State, but failed to hit a challenged drive, then missed a jumper from the corner as the clock ran out.
Overall, Florida State went 18-for-38 at the foul line. Cassell and Ward were a combined four of 17 from the field, and the Hilltoppers had four fewer turnovers and four more steals.
But the inside guys, Doug Edwards (19 points, nine rebounds) and Dobard (16 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks) came up big, as the Seminoles redeemed themselves for a first-round ACC tournament loss to Clemson at this site.