Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Senior Day is always special. It’s a day to pay tribute and give thanks. It’s a day that is four years in the making. It’s a day where families—both those bound by blood and those bound by sweat and hard work—cheer on the individuals who helped make the team what it has become. But to get a win, against a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team, while playing the best basketball since the first few weeks of the season…well this Senior Day may be one that leaves a lasting legacy.
Florida State’s 2012-2013 season has had more ups and downs than your favorite roller coaster. It started with the raising of the programs first ACC Championship banner…and then was immediately followed by a loss to a Sun-Belt team. It was besieged by one injury after another, featured uncharacteristically bad defense, and every glimmer of hope was followed by another head scratching loss. All the while, the lone scholarship senior on the team was charged with being the go-to scorer, the lockdown defender, the on-court coach, and off-court spokesperson. So it’s fitting that in his final two regular season home games as a Seminole, Michael Snaer hit a game-winning shot and a game sealing, breakaway dunk. Thank you, Mr. Snaer.
However, Snaer’s true legacy might not be seen for another 8-12 months. For on this Senior Day, it was a trio of freshmen who stepped their games up when FSU needed big plays to be made. Freshmen whom Snaer has admittedly struggled with all season in terms of figuring out the most effective way to lead, teach, and empower, finally seemed to understand just what their fearless leader had been preaching all year: focus on the task at hand, be where you’re supposed to be, and play for the team, and the wins will come.
"I thought our kids showed fight," said Coach Hamilton after the game. "They’re learning the effort and the focus you have got to have to compete at this level."
Indeed, Aaron Thomas, despite two early fouls, played tremendous defense all game and then stepped to the line with 17 seconds left and made a big free throw moments after a refereeing fiasco nullified his first made free throw.
Montay Brandon, seeing his first extended action in weeks, had several key assists down the stretch and a huge basket with 3:35 left in the game to bring FSU within one of the visiting Wolfpack.
And Devon Bookert, what more can you say about this young man? Playing against the bigger, longer, soon-to-be NBA point guard Lorenzo Brown, Bookert looked flustered for the first time all season for much of the first 25 minutes of the game. But the youngster settled down and scored 11 of FSU’s last 17 points, including a monster three ball with 2:59 left to tie the game up, and assisted on another basket. In all, Bookert led the Noles with 18 points—the highest of his young Seminole career—which was one more than Snaer’s 17. You could almost smell the torch as it changed hands.
In addition to the play of Snaer and the freshmen, several other players had a huge hand in this victory.
Okaro White, continued his stretch of outstanding play, netting 8 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, 5 of them extending offensive possessions. And his best plays of the game were his full court bomb to Snaer and a late-game tip out after a missed free throw, allowing FSU to run precious time off the clock. Hopefully, the light bulb is finally starting to shine at full wattage for the rising senior from Clearwater.
Ian Miller, who still can’t even practice during the week, scored 7 straight points mid-way through the second half when FSU looked headed for one of their patented scoring droughts, getting FSU back into the game. Then his beautiful feed to yet another freshman Boris Bojanovsky helped tie the game up at 53 and ignited the lively crowd.
In the end, all of these individual contributions added up to a terrific team victory. For the first time all season, the inexperienced Seminoles punched back when the opponent went on an extended run—this one a 21-5 run that stretched over both halves. The Noles displayed a gritty effort on the boards, outrebounding NC State both overall and on the offensive glass. And the much-maligned defense came up with steals and blocks when they had to get a stop.
Snaer said after the game that he wanted so badly to leave this program in a better place than when he arrived, and that he wanted to show these freshmen what it meant to play hard-nosed, "Florida State basketball." Mission accomplished, Mike. Mission accomplished.
Other Quotes and Notes:
If you thought that article was short on quotes, it was. That’s because I’m uploading a podcast of over 30 minutes of questions and answers from NC State coach Mark Gottfried, Coach Ham, Okaro White, and Michael Snaer (in that order). Topics covered include the freshmen stepping up, the team coming together, Ian’s frustrations and desire to win, the state of our program, Okaro’s time spent practicing with EJ Manuel, Scott Wood’s trash talking that led to the game being quite chippy, Snaer’s favorite moments as a Nole, Snaer’s journey through the season, and Snaer discussing the significance of his mom and daughter being in attendance.
Here are a few select ones:
"I thought Bookert and Miller made a couple key shots—KEY ones." –Coach Gottfried
"We’re a different team with Richard and Calvin both on the bench. If you get to play NC State without Richard and Calvin playing that much, you’re better off." –Coach Gottfried. (So like half the teams this year, because one or both seem to always be in foul trouble…thanks for the back handed compliment, Coach.)
"Since the Virginia Tech game, I think our guys have been a lot more focused." –Coach Ham
"He (Okaro) was a soldier out there."—Coach Ham
"Montay made some big plays for a freshman."—Coach Ham
"Aaron’s defense was outstanding…you don’t say that too many times about a freshman."—Coach Ham
"Mike came to the bench as said ‘Coach they’re over playing me, why don’t we run a home run play?’"—Coach Ham on the long pass from Okaro to Snaer.
"Somebody said something to somebody…I’ve heard two or three different versions."—Coach Ham when asked about the near fight early one.
"I feel good that we can say 9-9 is an average season. That’s a compliment in and of itself."—Coach Ham
FSU has now won 8 out of their last 9 Senior Days. The lone loss came in 2011 in a heartbreaker to UNC, 72-70.
With the win, FSU assured itself of its 8th consecutive winning season, the second longest streak in school history.