The energy had vanished from the Donald L. Tucker Center. FSU, continuing it’s woeful display of basketball that began with four minutes to go against UNC, listlessly walked towards the locker room at halftime trailing an average Clemson team 29-21 and it was lucky to be even that close. The Noles were 8-25 from the field—including only 1-6 from outside—committed nine first half turnovers, and both Okaro White and Kiel Turpin got into early foul trouble. The game, and probably the season, seemed to be fading faster than December afternoon sunlight.
Then came the second half. Then came a suddenly confident and aggressive Kiel Turpin
. Then came quick ball movement and beautiful entry passes. Then came a clutch three by freshman guard Devon Bookert
, tying the game at 57 all with 44 seconds to play. Then came Mike “Money Ball” Snaer doing what he does best: crushing the spirit of opposing fans one buzzer-beater at a time.
And just like that, the energy was back. FSU, who officially led for zero seconds in the second half, found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and just might have found its mojo in the process.
“They basically are defining their roles right now,” Coach Hamilton said of his inexperienced team after the game. “Having the ability to relax and play with confidence is a skill. They are developing that confidence.”
Confidence was clearly low after a blowout loss against UVA, and the team looked out of sorts to start this game. Yet, somehow, someway the Seminoles found a way to cast aside the demons of five previous home losses this season and erase a 12 point second half deficit.
“We felt at halftime that we hadn’t played very well and hadn’t had very many of our veterans in the game,” Hamilton said. “I thought we executed much better in the second half. Got the shots we were looking for.”
Hamilton also spent much of the press conference talking about how much of an adjustment process life in the ACC has been for his many of his players.
“[The] first half I thought we were extremely tentative, but the second half I felt we were much more aggressive.”
Indeed, FSU came out of the locker room and immediately looked to go inside. And after taking a minute to gain their footing, the newfound aggressiveness started to pay dividends as Clemson reached seven team fouls with almost 17 minutes left in the game. This allowed FSU to set up shop at the charity stripe in the second half and Kiel Turpin and Devon Bookert made sure to make the most of their opportunities. Turpin in particular kept FSU in the game with his free throw shooting, going 8-9 from the stripe in what was a monster second half for the big fella.
“We played as a team…that was a big difference between the games we played in the past,” said the 7’0 junior from Normal, Illinois. “We were getting more ball movement and throwing to the post a lot more.”
When asked about his career night, Turpin echoed Hamilton’s sentiments regarding confidence and aggressiveness.
“For me personally, just me calling for the ball. I think that was a big difference between what I’ve been doing in the past,” said Turpin. “Actually being a presence…especially with them being in foul trouble, so they really couldn’t give up any fouls.”
Another guy who came up big in the second half was freshman Devon Bookert. The soft-spoken point guard scored 9 of his 11 points in the second half; with none bigger than the game-tying, high arching three-ball he calmly drilled with 44 seconds left in the game.
“It’s something you dream about. Something you work hard in practice and put in work after practice just to be in that position,” said Bookert when asked about his big shot. “[Coach] said that every game someone else would get hot…that everyone has a role on the team. Today was my day.”
When asked about the success of the second half, Bookert reiterated the team’s aggressiveness to get the ball inside.
“Coach did a good job of telling us what sets to run so our offense would flow,” said Bookert. “He told us there would be mismatches in the post, especially since some of their guys got into foul trouble. We tried to expose that…and then Kiel really came through for us.”
While the two newcomers led the big comeback by the Noles, it was a familiar face that delivered the knockout punch: Michael Snaer
. While Snaer had an up and down night, going 4-8 from the field, dishing out 4 assists, but also having 2 turnovers, the senior was nearly perfect in crunch time.
With 1:27 left in the game and FSU trailing by 3, Snaer drove the lane and nailed a beautiful runner, banking the shot high off the glass. Then on the next possession, with FSU down three again, it was Snaer who penetrated, drew in the defense, and then trusted his freshman teammate enough to kick it out for a wide open look. Then came the haymaker. Standing beyond NBA three-point range with time slipping away, Snaer rose up over two defenders and looked to cash in one more time—thankfully the bank was still open.
After the game, everyone wanted to know about the latest round of Snaer’s late game heroics.
“When the shot went in, I really said to myself ‘I can’t believe I did that again,’” said the former McDonald’s All-American from Moreno Valley, California. “It feels great to be able to do that for Florida State. As much as this program and this community has done for me, for me to be able to do that is amazing.”
Snaer, who looked like a huge weight of frustration had been lifted off his shoulders, also spoke a lot about using this as a spring board for the rest of the season and getting back to defending their home court.
“It was the same thing as last year,” Snaer said. It gives you a lot of momentum, being able to win a game like that. It makes you come together…you don’t know how good it feels to be happy after a home game, you know to finally be able to defend your home court. I mean you go on the road and win, then it’s like ‘okay let’s just get right back on the plane.’ But when you win at home…and it’s something that you haven’t been doing, it’s kind of like that battle for Tallahassee, you know? We just had to win it back, had to win our home court back.”
At least for one night, Michael Snaer and Co. won their home court back. Now the road gets much tougher as the team travels to Coral Gables to take on a Miami team that just might be the hottest in the country. When asked about the upcoming matchup, Snaer spoke about the theme for the night—playing as a team.
“If you remember, we were that same team last year,” said Snaer. “So I know exactly what type of team this is and what they are gonna come with…we’re going to have to have a tremendous effort. These guys are gonna have to play a little bit harder than they’ve ever played…we gotta still stay together, come together like we did tonight. And win or lose, we gotta keep playing like that for the rest of the season.”
Last year, about this same time, Mike Snaer guaranteed an ACC Championship. And he delivered on the promise a few months later. This year he offers no such promises, but hopefully his words will prove prophetic again and FSU will play like that for the rest of the season. Because Snaer is right. In order for him, the team’s only senior, to leave Tallahassee on a high note, it’s going to take a full team effort.Other Quotes and Game Notes:
The win gave FSU its first sweep over Clemson since 2009.
Turpin said after the game that after he picked up the two fouls, Shannon pulled him aside and had a heart to heart. Shannon essentially told him that he had to step up and be more aggressive because there was no one else left to do it. It’s great to see the guys still look to him as a leader, despite the injury.
Turpin also said that earlier in the year he would not have had the confidence to knock down the free throws like he did. But a couple months ago, Coach Jones spent a lot of time working with him and changing his shot. Turp said it’s made a huge difference and the last few weeks of practice he has felt much more comfortable at the line.
Another note on Turpin, he finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 blocks. ALL of his points and rebounds came in the second half. After the game, Ham added this about him: “Kiel is solid in a lot of ways. He’s just one of the least experienced guys on our team…He stepped up and showed what he was capable of tonight.”
Devon Bookert did not miss a shot all game. He was 2-2 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line. As a team, FSU was 18-20 from the line, including 14-16 in the big second half.
After having only 4 assists against 9 turnovers in the first half, FSU had 8 assists and only 6 TOs in the second.
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Turpin and Snaer, Aaron Thomas played very well in the second half. In fact, Hamilton was quite complimentary of him after the game. “Aaron did a very good job defending and contesting shots,” he said. “I thought his (Aaron) defense was very very good and he was very active. His contribution might not show up from a statistical standpoint.”
On the last shot, Hamilton said he wanted to give Snaer an opportunity to drive to the basket. But Clemson played great defense and took that option away, so Mike just had to be Mike and create something.
Ham still does not think FSU is doing a good enough job of creating shots for themselves. He attributes most of that to lack of confidence. “Our guys are not playing with a consistent level of confidence that you have to play with in order to be successful in the ACC.”
Coach was also quite candid about the UVA game, saying he didn’t see that one coming. But, always the optimist, he thought the UVA game was a good learning experience for his team about life on the road in the ACC. “We’ll look back a couple years from now and we’ll see these players doing some of the things that teams are doing to us now.”