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Progress Made--Noles Meet Expections at Least for One Night

For the Florida State men’s basketball team, a lot of expectations have not been met this year. Not Leonard Hamilton’s, who in the preseason said, “I am as excited as I’ve ever been going into a season.” Not Michael Snaer’s, who proclaimed himself, “unguardable” in the offseason. Not Ian Miller’s, who spent much of the offseason working to transition to point guard in anticipation of his first year where he wouldn’t be sidelined for any length of time. And not the fans, who despite yearly complaints about Florida State’s offense, had grown accustomed to rooting the Noles on during March Madness. However, last night---for the first time since November—everything seemed to go as planned.

The Seminoles, losers of 4 out of their last five games coming in, desperately needed to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them this year. Mission accomplished, as early hot shooting allowed FSU to take a 10-5 lead over Wake Forest—fresh off a demolition of first place Miami—at the under 16:00 timeout.

Okaro White needed to not pick up a foul in the first two minutes and actually play extended first half minutes. Another yes, as White went foul-less for the first 14 minutes of the game.

Michael Snaer needed to be aggressive but under control, and step up as a leader by not becoming overly worried about mistakes that freshmen inevitably make. Check and check.

Speaking of the young guys, they needed to trust their teammates, communicate, and frankly just be where they are supposed to be in Hamilton’s help-man defense. They were significantly better in this category, holding Wake without a field goal for nearly 11 minutes in the second half and allowing the Seminoles to blow things open with a 23-3 run.

After the game, Coach Hamilton seemed relieved to finally win an ACC game without having to rely on last second heroics.

“I thought our execution on the offensive end was very good…we had good movement,” said Hamilton. “I looked out there once and had four freshmen on the court at the same time and they were still executing very well, talking, and communicating.”

When asked about the defensive and rebounding adjustments compared to the previous few games, Hamilton credited it to increased understanding of what guys are supposed to be doing and a more sustained effort.

“I thought our guys stayed with the defensive game plan, didn’t give up the penetrations we had been giving up, and were a lot more committed to defending for the whole shot clock,” remarked Ham. “Our guys were aggressive, just getting their hands up…think we had like 37 deflections tonight.”

Speaking specifically to the improved defense that allowed FSU to pull away despite average shooting, Hamilton said, “At least now they’re talking…I think they kind of understand what they’re supposed to say. Sometimes it’s hard to be aggressive in conversation and communicate with your teammates when you’re not real sure what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Our big guys have been helping up (the court) and giving guys layups,” Ham explained. “Now they’re helping over. It’s a natural instinct when someone’s coming towards the goal for you to go at them, and sometimes that’s the worst thing…when you’re a big guy you need to try and defend as close to the rim as you can.”

While the Seminoles’ defense finally resembled something like the defenses fans have come to expect in Tallahassee, Michael Snaer looked like the guy everyone hoped he would blossom into this season. The senior guard finished with 24 points on just 10 shots—he was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line—and added five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. This excellent stat line was made even better by a zero in the turnover column, indicating he is maturing as a decision maker as his team matures around him.

“Michael was very efficient tonight…aggressive when he needed to be and patient when a needed to be,” commented Ham.

A remarkably subdued and introspective Snaer attributed his improved play to staying more even keeled emotionally during the games and just focusing on what he can control.

“[Earlier in the year] I let [the young guys’] play, their mistakes, affect me way too much. I was trying to be responsible for everything and I wasn’t really focusing on myself.”

As far as this team’s at-large NCAA berth is concerned, the team’s improvements are probably too little too late. However, with the ACC Tournament quickly approaching and the chance to get all of the young guys some much needed postseason experience in the NIT, I’d say it’s better late than never.

Other Quotes and Notes:

The coaches challenged the guys on the boards tonight, specifically talking about how they were embarrassed in Winston-Salem. Ham thought they “responded real well.” When I asked if they did anything different position wise for the rebounding, Hamilton said that they used the same language and instruction that they have been doing the last 11 years. But the last couple games, “Our guys are concentrating a little more and doing the little things needed to rebound…putting a body on people.” Hamilton praised both Turpin and Boris for being extremely active underneath and getting their hands up.

Coach also said that they have been working with Ian Miller (who can only ride a bike during practice) on allowing himself to get more into the flow of the game and use his creativity to set up other guys before getting too aggressive with his shot. Ham said Miller responded and “gave us good leadership tonight,” as the junior finished with 4 assists to only 1 turnover in just 15 minutes of play.

“At half-time I had a lot of sweat beads on my head…I didn’t have very many by the end of the night.” –Coach Ham

Snaer’s on-court demeanor was noticeably different this game. He looked much more patient and laid-back, even smiling and laughing at the refs on an obvious bad call (he normally talks to the refs quite a bit). After the game he talked a lot about how difficult this year has been for him, as a player, but also as someone who has struggled while trying to develop into a leader. He said last year guys like Bernard, Gibson, and Kreft could handle criticism and yelling much better than this year’s young guys and it has taken him a long time to figure out how best to teach and critique them while still generating a positive result. While I’m sure this season is a disappointment to him, it really speaks volumes about his character and desire to get better that he is willing to be so forthcoming about his own challenges and his desire to deflect blame away from the new guys. People can say what they want about Snaer as a player, but FSU fans are lucky to have someone like him representing their university.

Snaer has scored 20 or more points in 3 of the last 4 games. And while some of it is likely due to Snaer’s change in approach, I think the increased role of Devon Bookert has to be mentioned as well.

Not only was Snaer great on the offensive end, he harassed C. J. Harris, one of the leagues better offensive players, much of the night. Harris finished with 9 points on just 1-7 shooting.

“Our success as individuals comes with us winning games [as a team].” --Snaer

FSU scored 1.17 points per possession last night, their 5th best of the year. Additionally, they held Wake to .96 ppp—meaning this is the first game since the road win at Clemson that FSU scored more than a point per possession while also holding their opponent under one point per possession.

Travis McKie, Wake’s best player, finished with 15 points but only one of those came after halftime. After the game, Okaro White (who finished with a very nice 13 and 9) said there was a bit of a surprise when Wake went to a small lineup in the first half and put McKie at PF, but Ham made great adjustments at halftime and the team was able to effectively take him out of the game.

Aaron Thomas continues to impress on both ends of the floor (though I wish he would cut back to 1 or 2 three point attempts per game). He really did a nice job during the six minute stretch to end the first half when Snaer and White had to sit with two fouls, allowing the Noles to maintain a working lead.