TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Okaro White has willed Florida State to wins the past few weeks, closing out his college career with his best stretch of basketball.
In his final home regular-season game, White tried yet again. Hustling, rebounding, taking smart shots.
But on Sunday, it wasn’t nearly enough. White scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds but No. 7 Syracuse broke open a close game midway through the second half and took a 74-58 win.
While Syracuse has struggled the past month, the Orange showed their aggression on defense and outrebounded Florida State 43-24. CJ Fair had 15 of his 22 points in the second half for Syracuse.
"That’s the most athletic team we’ve played this year," White said. "We were right there. We just ran out of energy toward the end."
White had 14 first-half points, more than half of the Seminoles’ total of 27 in the first 20 minutes. He almost single-handedly kept Florida State in the game, making sure the Seminoles trailed just 33-27 at the half.
But Florida State simply could have used more production from beyond its core of White, senior Ian Miller and sophomore Aaron Thomas — a trio that combined for 50 of the team’s 58 points.
Florida State (18-12, 9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) will now open conference tournament play on Thursday afternoon against Maryland in Greensboro, N.C. The Seminoles could have made a significant statement to the NCAA Selection Committee with a win over Syracuse, but now they need at least two wins to make a decent argument for the field of 68.
After the game, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim made a case for "bubble" teams like Florida State and Clemson (19-11) to earn NCAA bids. But he also felt like while they may be on the borderline, both would need to play into the Big Dance with how they perform at the ACC tournament.
"This week in Greensboro, some teams will have an opportunity to help themselves," Boeheim. "It can give a team that’s on the edge an opportunity."
White has given Florida State an opportunity of late, saving his best basketball for last. And Florida State will need every drop of energy he has at the ACC tournament. Considered one of the most athletic players in Florida State history, White found motivation from one of his most disappointing moments.
When Florida State hosted North Carolina on Feb. 17, the Seminoles built a 15-point first-half lead. But as the Tar Heels chipped away at the lead, White wasn’t there to help. He committed foul after foul and was on the bench in the second half, fouled out with just four points and three rebounds.
It was a tremendous opportunity lost for both Florida State and White. The game was expected to be an intriguing matchup between White and UNC star forward James Michael McAdoo. But McAdoo also fouled out. The door was open for Florida State, but White provided nothing.
White was distraught.
"I think definitely the switch flipped," White said. "That’s when I first really realized how much I hurt my team when I’m not on the floor.
"I definitely took it hard. That was one of the low moments in my life that I remember as far as basketball-wise. I’m glad I jumped up out of that slump."
Since then, White has gone for 22 points in a win at Pittsburgh, 18 points in a victory over Georgia Tech, a career-high 24 points in a win at Boston College and then 20 points on Sunday. His 11 rebounds against Syracuse were just one away from his career-high.
"I’m proud of it," White said. "Finally playing where I thought I should have been playing. Being aggressive. I just want to leave a legacy that I was a good player for four years."
White now has another opportunity to leave an impression. And while the Seminoles are clearly on the outside looking in, what he does in the ACC tournament could have plenty to say about which tournament — NCAA or NIT — Florida State plays in March.