TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton didn’t want to say it but he voluntarily admitted that the Seminoles were in a "must" situation on Sunday night.
Must win. Must gain confidence. Must build some momentum in the final few games of the regular season.
Florida State delivered.
Okaro White scored 18 points and Devon Bookert came off the bench to add 16 points on Sunday night as Florida State held on to its slim NCAA tournament hopes with an 81-71 win over Georgia Tech.
"I don’t think there’s a day we don’t think about it," White said of Florida State’s postseason prospects. "It’s always in the back of our heads. We understand we have to go ahead and finish this regular season strong in order to get where we need to be."
Florida State isn’t where it wants to be. But 17-11 and 8-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference isn’t awful either.
Now, Florida State has a short turnaround — less than 48 hours — to travel to Boston College in an attempt to get No. 18 on Tuesday night. The Seminoles need to stack some wins down the stretch, and a victory (or strong showing) at home against No. 5 Syracuse on March 9 would certainly help.
Hamilton is typically not so blunt when it comes to the big picture, preferring the one-game-at-a-time mantra. But he deviated from that in the moments after Sunday’s win.
"Unfortunately we don’t have very long to enjoy it," Hamilton said. "We have to turn right around here, start watching Boston College games. In order for this game to be as meaningful as we would like for it to be, we need to go up to Boston on Tuesday and gear it up again."
The next few games are make-or-break. But the season in reality will come down to how well Florida State plays in the ACC Tournament. A quick exit would seal an NIT bid. But a few wins, enough to get the Seminoles to 20 victories, would give the NCAA Selection Committee something to think about.
Florida State could use more nights like Sunday’s from point guard Bookert, who had 16 points and was 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.
"Everyone knows he’s a great shooter," White said. "He struggled earlier in the season. When he’s knocking them down, we want to keep going to him."
Bookert’s resurgence could be a good thing for Florida State. It doesn’t take an optometrist or bracketologist to understand where Florida State is sitting in early March. The Seminoles are clearly on the bubble, likely on the outside looking in and in need of wins (as well as others to falter).
"We can’t worry about the selection committee, whether you’re in or out," Hamilton said. "(NCAA) tournament conversation has become a sport."
He’s right. But even Hamilton admits the obvious. The Seminoles dug themselves a hole in February with head-scratching losses at home to Miami and Clemson, and the blown 15-point first-half lead at home against a red-hot North Carolina team is almost a third strike.
It’s tough for teams to come back from that, to still argue that their resume is worthy of a spot in the Big Dance. But after a road win last week over Pittsburgh and then Sunday’s win over Georgia Tech, it’s been a needed infusion for the team.
"We did point out to them that even though we would love to have won more games but there have been a lot of teams over the years that have been in the situation that we’re in and they’ve played their way out of it," Hamilton said. "And we could be one of those teams."
Only time will tell how Florida State finishes up the year. The road is full of bumps, but the Seminoles are still fighting.