TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Sue Semrau wasn't fazed when third-seeded Florida State got off to a slow start in Friday night's NCAA Tournament first-round game against No. 14 Western Illinois. With the Seminoles playing their first game in two weeks, she expected it.
Even though it might have taken longer for Florida State to shake off any idle rust, it eventually did as the Seminoles (26-6) broke open a close game in the second half for an 87-66 victory.
"At first I think we were back on our heels a bit because Western came out so fast. But it was really great for us," Semrau said. "I am thrilled with the way we got hit and responded."
The Leathernecks (26-7) led for most of the first half and were up 19-11 near the end of the first quarter. They would lead 34-32 with 1:31 remaining in the first half on a Taylor Higginbotham 3-pointer before the Seminoles scored the final four points go into the locker room up 36-34 at halftime.
Florida State broke it open in the third quarter as it went on a 14-2 run to begin the second half. Shakayla Thomas, who had 23 points, scored eight points in the quarter. The Seminoles would lead by as many as 26 late in the fourth.
Thomas, who was the coaches' choice as Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, also had 14 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.
"I think I got started when I get chewed out walking off the court," Thomas said. "Coach and teammates told me to get out there and do what I do best. I just had to settle down and play my game."
Chatrice White came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 14 rebounds while Imani Wright scored 14.
The Leathernecks, who are sixth nationally with 9.5 3-pointers per game, made seven in the first half and were 11 of 24 for the game.
Higginbotham, who had 20 points, scored 12 of Western Illinois' first 14 points. The sophomore guard played only six minutes in the second half after an inadvertent elbow by Ivey Slaughter caused a cut below Higginbotham's left eye that needed stitches.
"It was an unlucky play and when I heard she was going to get stitches your heart drops a little bit for our team because she was one of our best rebounding guards and a strong offensive player," Western Illinois coach JD Gravina said. "So you take a big breath and try to figure it out how you're going to do without her."
Morgan Blumer, who played here two years ago when Florida Gulf Coast played FSU in the NCAA Tournament, added 12 points.
It is the first time Florida State has had two players record double-doubles in an NCAA Tournament game. ... Behind White and Thomas, Florida State dominated in rebounding (54-23) and in points in the paint (50-16). ... Florida State's 54 rebounds set a school single-game NCAA Tournament record, breaking the old mark of 52 set against Samford in 2011.
Western Illinois: With nine points, Emily Clemens tied Ashley Luke (2013-14) for the most points in program history for a single season with 623. Clemens has also set a new program record for the most made free throws (202) and the most minutes (1,234) in a single season. It is only the second time in 33 games she did not score in double figures.
Florida State: The Seminoles have won 14 straight first-round games in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 1991. It is the second-longest streak among ACC teams with Duke leading the way at 22.
Florida State faces Missouri on Sunday. The sixth-seeded Tigers advanced with a 66-64 win over South Florida.
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