It may not be the sort of senior season Florida State senior Michael Snaer was hoping for, but that mattered little on Thursday night as the Seminoles (16-14, 8-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat the Virginia Cavalier (20-10, 10-7 ACC) 53-51.
"Michael's paid his dues and this year has been an exceptional year for him from that standpoint," said FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton about Snaer's senior season. "We've always tried to keep experienced players and juniors and seniors that could give our underclassmen the opportunity to grow and develop and reach their potential. And it's been working pretty good for about seven years.
"When Michael came in as a freshman he had some older more mature guys around him that kind of took the pressure off of him, and so for three years he's been a guy who's been an attack guy, he's been a guy who could finish. He didn't have to worry about moving guys around and making decisions on the court. So now he's in his senior year with an extremely inexperienced team and his role has changed tremendously where he's kind of been a little bit out of his comfort zone because for three years he's been the deliverer, the finisher.
"Now he's the guy orchestrating, constructing, communicating, leading for guys who are still trying to figure out how to follow. So it's been a real challenge for him, mentally, emotionally as well as physically. Tonight I thought was one of his better games locking in, understanding that he has to lead this team not only physically, emotionally, spiritually as well as verbally. And he did a great job of that tonight."
Snaer's legacy at Florida State will undoubtedly be linked to late game magic. So much so that as time wound down in Thursday night's game and it became obvious that tonight's ACC matchup would come down to both teams' last possession, there wasn't a doubt in the entire Tucker Center as to where the ball would wind up on the final Seminole offensive play of the game.
And yet there he was, with 12 seconds remaining and the game hanging in the balance, there was number 21 streaking under the hoop, taking the ball on the perimeter and finding enough space inside to heave up a contested shot that would prove fatal to the Cavaliers.
Once again in the Florida State media room after the game, there was another opposing head coach explaing how Snaer sank his team in the final seconds.
"I think he hit a tough shot, I don't know if he hit it with his left hand or not," said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. "But he made a floater going to his left and it comes down to those situations either offensive or defensively [where you have to make a play]. I thought we put ourselves in that spot but we couldn't come away with it."
Neither team could find much offense after the game first tipped off, with the two teams combining for just 21 points in the first ten minutes. For Florida State poor shooting combined with trouble at the boards let Virginia squeak out an early lead, but by the 7:15 mark Florida State had started to take control of the ballgame on an Okaro White dunk and free throw, making it 14-12.
White came alive over the next several minutes, connecting on a three pointer on the Seminoles' next trip down the floor and continuing to add offense through the final few minutes of first half to the lead Florida State with 13 points and five rebounds early on.
FSU headed into the lockerroom up 26-23 behind White's early performance and some improved shooting over the final ten minutes of the first half.
In the second half it was Snaer that got the hot hand, scoring seven in the first three minutes to help the Seminoles put some distance between themselves and the Cavaliers. With Snaer, White and freshmen Kiel Turpin and Devon Bookert all providing offense, the Seminoles were able to jump out to a 45-36 lead at the ten minute point in the game.
Those four players were the only ones providing offense for the Seminoles though, through the first 33 and a half minutes, the group combined for 45 points while their teammates were scoreless. It wasn't until freshman center Boris Bojanovsky dunked one home with 6:30 remaining that anyone else even got on the board. And even with that, not a single other Seminole scored.
White went on to finish with a game-best 17 points, he also had six rebounds. Tuprin added 11, Booker had nine and Snaer finished with fourteen points including the game winner.
It was a late-game Cavalier run that set that up.
Virginia pulled close at final media timeout behind a three-pointer by sophomore guard Paul Jesperson that made it a four point game, 47-43.
After a jumper by Virginia's Joe Harris and four quick points from Akil Mitchell, the Cavaliers managed to make it a one-point game with two minutes to go. After forcing the Seminoles into a shot clock violation, Harris made two free throws to give UVA their first lead since the first half to make it 51-50 with just over a minute to play.
Snaer took the ball for Florida State as the shot clock wound down and drove to the basket, but the ball rimmed out and Virginia grabbed the rebound. Down at the other end the Seminoles opted not to foul, letting the Cavaliers shrink the shot clock and the game clock as far as they could until missing a basket under the hoop. Florida State quickly pulled down the rebound and called a timeout with 12.8 seconds left, still trailing by just a point.
There was no doubt where the ball was going, the in-bound went to Bookert who quickly found Snaer on the perimeter. And as he had done all season the Seminoles' clutch senior guard crossed up, dribbled toward the basket and connected on a contested shot with 4.4 seconds left to give Florida State the lead and a chance to go up by two on the plus-one- which he hit with ease.
"I knew I was getting the ball at the end of the game," said Snaer. "And I knew I was going to make a play, someway, somehow I'm going to make a play. I'm going to shoot it or one of my teammates will get an open look."
The latter half may have been lip-service, Snaer rarely dishes in the final seconds. Like most nights, Snaer took the shot again on Thursday.
"In my mind I'm thinking 'I know I can get by the first guy, I've been doing it all night,'" said Snaer. "But I've got to make sure that whenever somebody comes over to help I've got to just find my teammates, that's what I did but nobody ever really came over to stop me so I just put it up."
He hit the shot and drew the foul.
After Snaer connected on the and-one to make it a two-point Seminole advantage the Cavaliers quickly had to in-bound, and rather than call a timeout, they went straight for the tie.
But the Florida State defense held, never allowing Harris or Virginia to get a shot up before the final buzzer sounded. Florida State held on to win 53-51.
The Seminoles will close out their season at home against NC State on Saturday at 2 PM.
Notebook: Virginia shot just 2-for-14 from deep... FSU won the shooting battle 47.7%-38.6%... As has been an issue all season, the Seminoles struggled at the boards, losing the rebounding battle to the Cavs 33-25... UVA coach Tony Bennett said the team moved Joe Harris on to Snaer in the second half to try and shut him down but that Harris got lost a couple times... Akil Mitchell finished with a double-double for Virginia, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds... Michael Snaer played 39 of 40 possible minutes for the Seminoles on Thursday night... Montay Brandon's minutes have increased as his defense improves, Hamilton praised his play after the game... Hamilton joked holding Harris to 5-of-15 shooting was big for them given the success Harris has had against FSU in the past... Snaer did put the final shot up left-handed... Snaer also mentioned he likes when players defend him to the right because he can usually fake them with a quick jab and find some separation.
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