On Saturday afternoon Florida State senior guard Michael Snaer prepared to run out on the court for the Seminoles one final time.
After arriving in Tallahassee four years ago amid McDonald's All-American hype and considerable expectations, Snaer has helped Florida State raise its national profile in basketball over the course of his time at FSU.
But this season has been difficult for the California native. The talented guard has been forced to play a different role, pushed out of his comfort zone by the youth and inexperience of his teammates. After three consecutive seasons of tournament appearances, Snaer's lone hope for a fourth trip to the dance comes in the form of next week's ACC tournament- which Florida State must win in order to get in.
That mattered little on Saturday afternoon though as Snaer turned in one final memorable performance in front of his hometown crowd in Tallahassee to help the Seminoles (17-14, 9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) knock off the NC State Wolfpack (22-9, 11-7 ACC), 71-67.
"It's definitely special, just from all the battles I've had on that court until now," said Snaer after the game. "It's definitely special just being the last one and going out with a win and just seeing these guys coming together to fight the way we should have been fighting all year."
The first half was a tightly contested affair. Both teams traded baskets and fouls in what became an exceedingly chippy opening 20 minutes.
Things started to get testy early on in the half when Michael Snaer attempted to drive to the hoop and got tangled up with a Wolfpack defender. After some heated words were exchanged both benches cleared and the referees had to quickly work to maintain control.
Things stayed tense throughout the rest of the game as both teams attempted to gain the upper-hand.
Florida State was able to pull ahead by eight at around the five minute point when the Wolfpack ran into foul trouble. Forwards CJ Leslie and Richard Howell both picked up their third foul early on and were relegated to the bench for much of the first half.
The Seminoles in turn were able to gain the advantage under the basket, outrebounding NC State 16-9 and slowly pulling out to a small lead. But as quickly as they had gained the momentum, cold shooting by the Florida State offense let the Wolfpack retake the lead before the half.
After pulling ahead 32-24 the Seminoles went nearly five full minutes before Michael Snaer hit lay-up with just over 40 seconds remaining in the half. By then NC State was back in command and as the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half the Seminoles headed into the tunnel down 35-34.
The offensive cold-streak continued into the start of the second half for FSU too. After getting out-shot 55-42% in the first half, Florida State scored just four points over the opening five minutes of the second half while the Wolfpack had little trouble turning Seminole turnovers into points on the other end. At the first media timeout it was 47-39 with the Seminoles looking for any semblance of offense they could muster.
Ian Miller came to Florida State's rescue though, contributing seven crucial points to help Florida State pull themselves back into the game and tie things at the four minute mark after Leslie and Brown both picked up their fourth fouls and headed back to the bench.
But what Ian Miller giveth, he also taketh away. The junior guard rattled off five fouls over the course of about ten minutes, culminating with him fouling out and picking up a back-breaking technical as the game headed into the final official timeout with just 3:57 remaining.
NC State connected on three of its four free throw attempts to go up 60-57, but Devon Bookert was there to step up when the Seminoles needed it most and kept Florida State in the game. Bookert hit a three to tie the game at 62 near the two and a half minute mark, then on the Seminoles' next possession he connected on a contested runner to give FSU a narrow two point advantage.
After trading free throws, CJ Leslie traveled underneath the NC State basket with just under a minute remaining and Florida State called a timeout with the ball and a two point, 65-63 lead with just 49.5 seconds to play.
Bookert turned the ball over coming out of the timeout when he tried to throw a pass backwards that ended up squarely in the hands of Lorenzo Brown. But NC State turned the ball back over in transition when Leslie lost the handle under the hoop and sent the ball careening out of bounds.
With 34.6 left and the shot clock turned off the Seminoles in-bounded the ball to Michael Snaer who got behind the defense like a receiver on a blown coverage and easily converted a lay-in to put FSU up 4.
On their next trip down the court the Wolfpack struggled to convert on anything, letting precious seconds leak from the clock until Howell could finally put one back and pick up a foul.
He had no trouble knocking down the plus-one to make it a one-point game with just 21.4 seconds to play. After forcing Florida State to burn a timeout on the in-bounds, Brown fouled out sending Aaron Thomas to the charity stripe. Thomas hit the first and missed the second, but Okaro White tipped the ball back out and Devon Bookert quickly found himself on the free throw line with a chance to put it away.
He connected on both free throws and senior walk-ons Rafael Portuondo and Joey Moreau were able to check in to the game for one final Seminole farewell.
Meanwhile Snaer left the court to a standing ovation for the final time in Tallahassee.
"It's just a great feeling, a feeling I've never felt before just knowing that people appreciate what you've been trying to do in this basketball program for the last four years," said Snaer. "It really means a lot to me to have your efforts appreciated, have them recognized. It really means a lot to know that people care about you and a lot of people showed up today just to support us. It feels good."
On the day the 6-5 senior guard finished with 17 points on 7-13 shooting. Bookert had 18 points and three assists while White contributed 8 points and nine rebounds.
Florida State travels to Greensboro next for the ACC Tournament.
Notebook: FSU won the rebounding battle 32-27, though much of that can be attributed to the foul trouble NC State ran into... Hamilton praised his team's focus and effort since the Virginia Tech game... Montay Brandon's defense continues to improve and draw praise from the FSU coaches... FSU turned the ball over 13 times against NC State... FSU held NC State to just 10 of 25 shooting in the second half, including 0-5 from deep... Coach Ham said Ian Miller had a different swagger to him today, he looked like his old self, Miller finished with nine points and two assists... Miller's nagging injuries will take time over the off-season to fully heal... Hamilton said Ian Miller apologized for his technical after the game, chalked it up to the frustration of not being able to practice and wanting to stay in the game... Hamilton also said he would have been surprised if his team initiated the chippiness that occurred early in the game... Hamilton also gave perspective by reminsicing about a time when .500 in the ACC would have been an improvement at FSU, "now for us it's a down year."
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