ATLANTA -- Staring straight into the eye of its worst Atlantic Coast Conference regular season start in four seasons, 17th-ranked Florida State snapped a three-game losing streak with a gutty 70-67 victory Sunday at Georgia Tech.
Junior forward Randell Jackson scored 22 points, his most in three seasons of ACC play, then held his breath after a costly turnover under FSU's own basket with 6.6 seconds left.
"Every play is important and that could have cost us the ballgame," Jackson said, after his turnover gave the Yellow Jackets one last shot at forcing overtime.
Matt Harpring's 3-pointer with three seconds left -- with FSU guard LaMarr Greer providing blanket defense -- was off the mark. Jackson grabbed the rebound, his team-high seventh of the game, preserving the win for the Seminoles (13-5, 2-4 ACC). The victory kept FSU from duplicating its 1-5 league start during the 1993-94 season.
With one victory, FSU improved to eighth place in the ACC standings, but remain within a half-game of fourth. Losing for just the second time in seven games, the 12-3 Yellow Jackets are one of four teams tied for fourth with 2-3 ACC records.
"We're learning to play as a team," Jackson said. "We did everything we could defensively to win and it worked out."
Jackson was one of five Seminoles who took turns defensively against Harpring, the ACC's leading scorer and rebounder, who finished with 24 points, but missed 15 of 22 shots.
"I thought he (Jackson) was huge tonight," said FSU coach Steve Robinson. "He made baskets, he really kept us going in the stretch ... especially at times when things weren't going well from the outside. He played a complete game."
Jackson's three-point play with 4:31 to go gave the Seminoles a 66-58 lead, their largest of the game. It proved to be FSU's final field goal of the game. Reserve Jason Floyd (13 points) responded with a 3-pointer and Harpring's three-point play with 2:53 left pulled the Jackets within 66-64.
Unaffected by their offensive struggles, the Seminoles came up big at the defensive end, holding Tech without a field goal over the final 2:53. Missing 18 of 22 3-point attempts, the Yellow Jackets shot just 35.8 percent from the floor against the league's top-rated field goal defensive unit.
"I just thought we didn't shoot the ball as well as we did the previous game," Tech coach Bobby Cremins said. "It was a dogfight out there. Every one of these ACC games is going to be just like that."
In terms of results, Robinson certainly hopes so.
"We're getting back to the defense the way we were playing it," Robinson said. "When you have been on a losing streak, you are just happy that you found a way to win a game. That is what we did today."
While Jackson and Corey Louis (15 points) provided the bulk of the offense, struggling guards Kerry Thompson and Terrell Baker scored the decisive points from the free throw line.
Two Thompson free throws with 32 seconds to play gave FSU a 68-64 lead, but Harpring got those back with a pair of free throws of his own. Baker made it 70-66 with 23.9 left with two from line and the Yellow Jackets mustered just one more Harpring free throw.
"Every time we made a little run, they did something at the other end to counteract it," Harpring said.
Struggling from the floor early on, the Yellow Jackets hung around by dominating the offensive glass. Tech had a 13-9 offensive rebound advantage in the first half and scored 10 of its first 20 points on second-chance baskets.
Jackson scored 12 of his 15 first-half points in a seven-minute stretch, allowing the Seminoles to open up a 27-20 lead. Harpring, who missed his first seven shots and didn't score over the first 12:29 of the game, warmed up with 10 points down the stretch.
Harpring's three-point play with 25 seconds left gave Tech a 37-36 lead, but Devonaire Deas hit one of two free throws to forge a 37-all halftime tie.
"Tonight was not my night," said Harpring, who played before four NBA general managers. "I missed a lot of shots. Those are the kind of shots you need to make to win in the ACC."