CHARLOTTE -- Dino Gaudio is likely going to a postseason tournament for the first time in his head coaching career.
It probably won't be the one he wanted.
"Hopefully, postseason is still in our future," Gaudio said, moments after Wake Forest was beaten 70-60 by Florida State in the first game of the ACC tournament. "We'll keep our fingers crossed for that."
He and the Demon Deacons will have to clamp their digits tighter than they played defense on Thursday.
Jason Rich scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in a four-minute second-half stretch, constantly working over Wake's L.D. Williams and hitting eight of the team's nine field goals. The Deacons, handcuffed by sloppy ball-handling and an off game from freshman star James Johnson, cut the lead to one with 17:46 to play, but never got closer than three within the last 10 minutes.
Wake finished 17-13 and has to hope what it accomplished before and during an 86-73 win over No. 2 Duke trumps what it posted after -- five losses in its last six games. It's likely the Deacons will be relegated to the NIT, while the Seminoles (19-13) continue their quest for the NCAAs against No. 1 North Carolina at noon today.
Once again, it was proven exactly how difficult it is for any one team to beat another three times within the same season.
"Our main thing going into the game, we had to concentrate on man-to-man defense," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton after his first win in three tries over Wake this year. "The end of the game, we got the shots we needed and Jason got hot."
Johnson posted a scoreless opening 20 minutes, but the Deacons were only trailing 31-26 at halftime. They cut it to 31-30 after Chas McFarland went up-and-under off a pass from Jeff Teague.
But Rich, a senior who's on his last shot to reach the NCAAs, took a short alley-oop pass from Ralph Mims and emphatically dunked while the Seminoles' defense reasserted itself. Wake was scoreless for the next four minutes while FSU built a seven-point lead, at which point the Deacons began to rally.
The lead was down to two points when Rich posted up on the elbow and drained a 3-pointer. Teague made two free throws on the other end but then Rich got loose, hit a jumper and the Seminoles led by five.
Rich canned another 3 and then made a three-point play before two straight from mid-range. Florida State led by 10 and Wake never got closer than five the rest of the way.
"As far as consecutive points, yeah, that's as dialed in as I've been all year," Rich said. "They did a good job of packing the lane up and coach just told me to get outside and wait for my shot."
As they kept diving in, Johnson woke up and scored 10 points to complement Teague's 15. But 14 turnovers and being out-rebounded more than squashed the seven blocks the Deacons had, eliminating them and sending them into the waiting game.
"I don't want to say it's youth," sophomore Ish Smith said, struggling to explain the loss. "I don't know what it was."
Hamilton credited his team for ignoring the pro-Wake crowd and rising past its own struggles. From losing Isaiah Swann and Solomon Alabi to season-ending injuries and missing Ryan Reid (nine-game suspension) and Julian Vaughn (missed three games due to sickness), it's been a constant switcheroo in the eight-man rotation.
"Nothing bothers us now," Hamilton said. "It always seems like we're trying to invent our style."