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Florida State foils USU’s NIT trip to the Big Apple

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Stop spreadin' the news. Utah State will not be leaving for New York next week after all.

The Aggie basketball team was hopeful of spending Thanksgiving in the Big Apple, playing in the Final Four of the Chase Preseason NIT tournament next week. However, following up on their upset of Minnesota in Monday's first round, the Aggies didn't have the same magic Wednesday night against Florida State and lost 66-55.Florida State just had too much height and hot shooting for the Aggies, who weren't nearly as sharp as two nights earlier.

The Seminoles jumped ahead of the Aggies right from the opening tip and grabbed a 16-point lead in the first eight minutes of the contest thanks to 80 percent shooting in the first quarter. The Aggies battled back to within four early in the second half, but could never catch their ACC opponents.

"Things didn't go right for us offensively like the other night, so we really struggled," said USU coach Larry Eustachy. "We lost the game at the beginning when we let them shoot 80 percent."

In this football-crazy town, only 1,321 fans showed up for the ESPN-televised contest at the 12,000-seat Civic Center, a far cry from what the Aggies figured they could have drawn in Logan. The Aggies knew they were victims of a political decision - NIT officials would rather have an Atlantic Coast Conference team in New York than a Big West team from Utah - and had to make the best of it.

Just like in their first-round game at Minnesota when they fell behind 7-0, the Aggies got off to a slow start. But this time their opponent didn't let up as the Seminoles hit their first eight shots. The Aggies found themselves down by 16 in the first quarter before pulling within 27-15 after the initial 10 minutes.

In the second quarter, the Aggies closed the gap behind 6-3 forward Kevin Rice, who worked his way inside against the taller Seminoles and by halftime the margin was down to 33-28.

Early in the second half, Marcus Saxon, who struggled all evening after scoring 31 in Minnesota, sank back-to-back baskets to pull the Aggies within four at 38-34. However, they turned the ball over and then were called for an offensive foul, which enraged Eustachy enough to get whistled with a technical.

All of a sudden, the Seminoles led 45-34 and the Aggies never really challenged again.

Saxon ended up leading the Aggies in scoring with 14 points, but he made only 5 of 15 shots and had five turnovers.

"You have days like that," said Saxon, whose mother came down from South Carolina to watch him. "The shots weren't falling tonight."

Justin Jones shot well for the Aggies, making 5 of 8 field goals, including three 3-pointers for 13 points.

FSU had a balanced attack led by Kerry Thompson with 16 points and Terrell Baker with 14. The small Aggies, whose tallest player is just 6-foot-7, had a difficult time contending with the likes of 6-11 Rendell Jackson, 6-9 Corey Louis and 7-2 Karim Shabazz.

The Aggies will return home from their long trip - which took them from frigid Minnesota to sunny Florida - to play Southern Oregon Saturday night at the Spectrum.

"I'm real excited - we've got a chance to be good," said Eustachy. "We've got a lot of room for improvement, and that's positive."

GAME NOTES: Brandon Birch, who Eustachy feared might be lost for most of the season with a shoulder injury, made his Aggie debut Wednesday and played 14 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds.. . . Despite their height disadvantage, the Aggies won the rebounding battle 31-28.. . . The Aggies shot just 40.4 percent from the field, only 33 percent in the second half.. . . In Wednesday's semifinals, the Seminoles will face Connecticut, the same team they played in the semifinals last March . . . Neal Geddes' eligibility has been restored for the 1997-98 season by the National Letter of Intent Appeals Committee has announced. The committee ruled, however, that Geddes must set out the first seven games of the season before he will be eligible to play for the Aggies, the same number of games that he played in last season for Utah State. He will be eligible for the Long Island game on Dec. 20. Geddes, a senior guard, averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in the seven games he played in last season.