TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — This was the type of performance that Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton had pictured before the season began.
And in many respects, the Seminoles’ regular-season finale was their best effort.
Michael Snaer poured in 17 points. Okaro White nearly had a double-double, but his defense — and a length-of-the-court pass to Snaer — were just as key. A hobbled Ian Miller contributed nine points. And Devon Bookert, a freshman from Alaska, sank crucial free throws and had a career-high 18 points.
This was a senior (Snaer), a pair of juniors (White and Miller) and a group of freshmen contributing as Florida State finished the regular season with a 71-67 win over NC State at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
“I think what we see is some youngsters growing up in front of our eyes,” Hamilton said. “We feel like we thought all along that this team had pretty good potential. We are hoping that this will give us some confidence as we prepare for the ACC tournament.”
Florida State (17-14, 9-9 ACC) has won three of its past four games, having defeated Wake Forest, Virginia and NC State at home in the last 12 days. Granted that the Seminoles were in Tallahassee, but they previously lost at Wake by 25, at Virginia by 20 and at NC State by 18. The team has certainly grown up.
On Saturday, Florida State quickly erased an eight-point second-half deficit and fought with NC State (22-9, 11-7) down the stretch until Bookert’s jumper with 2:01 left put the Seminoles up 64-62.
Bookert had 18 points and three assists but finished 9 of 12 from the free-throw line. He finishes the regular season making 45 of 53 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent).
But Bookert also saw that NC State was focusing its defense on Snaer, and the freshman point guard did what he doesn’t typically do: take more shots. Bookert had five points in the final 2:01 to hold off the Wolfpack.
“He was extremely confident,” Hamilton said. “He realized that they were not giving him the same level of attention that they were giving Michael (Snaer). He knew we needed to have some baskets. He really came through for us.”
NC State’s stars struggled to stay on the court. C.J. Leslie, who is fifth in the ACC in scoring with an average of 15.2 points per game, was held to just five points and missed 3 of 4 free-throw attempts. He was called for a technical foul in the first half and played just 18 minutes. Richard Howell had 10 points and nine rebounds but was also in foul trouble and was forced to spend long stretches of the game on the bench.
“We got into some deep foul trouble,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We had some issues to overcome with some key guys on the bench. If you get to play NC State without Richard (Howell) and Calvin (C.J. Leslie) playing that much, you’re better off. We hurt ourselves.”
Florida State’s few veterans, on the other hand, turned in some of their best performances. Snaer shot 7 of 13 from the floor, but he was aggressive from the start in his final regular-season game in Tallahassee (and he could have another if Florida State hosts an NIT game in a few weeks).
Snaer was determined to make his Senior Day a memorable one. And in a season that will be remembered for four buzzer-beating shots — a pair of 3-pointers and a pair of running drives — Snaer delivered with a final-minute play that wasn’t as highlight-worthy but was significant.
In the huddle during a timeout with 34 seconds to go, and Florida State ahead just 67-65, Snaer told coaches that he recognized how tightly NC State was guarding him. But Snaer had an idea: Why not try the home run ball?
So on the inbounds play he shed his defender and went long. White lofted the ball perfectly from the base line and into the open arms of Snaer, who dunked to put the Seminoles up 67-63.
“I wasn’t going to throw it until I realized he was wide open,” White said. “Me and EJ (Manuel), he has done a little bit of teaching with me. I tried to take after him. I used to play quarterback back in fifth grade.”
Said Snaer: “As soon as I took off, I knew the guy behind me wasn’t going to catch me.”
For almost the entire season, it was Florida State that was a step behind. The Seminoles haven’t beaten a top-25 team, but now the Seminoles can say that they have beaten the Wolfpack (22 wins) and Virginia (20 wins) in a span of three days.
That’s certainly a positive going into the ACC tournament on Thursday when sixth-seeded Florida State takes the floor to try and defend its title.
“Getting this win takes us in with a lot of momentum,” Snaer said. “That’s momentum that we need. For them to see that their effort transfers into a win, that’s big.”